TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Oh, the distractions. Playing a Southeastern Conference game two days after their head coach was fired will hardly be a picnic for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Alabama wouldn’t know about that. The Crimson Tide has the luxury of three extra days and one sandwich game to adjust to life after Mark Gottfried, who stepped down after a decade-long reign early in the week.
The two beleaguered teams fittingly cap a rough week together tonight, trying to work out their frustrations on the one opponent that can best empathize with their plight.
“I know everyone’s going to think of this as the interim game, and that’s too bad,” said Pete Herrmann, the Bulldogs’ temporary coach. “These are two proud schools with great traditions in athletics and in basketball.”
Georgia fired coach Dennis Felton on Thursday, the day after a 26-point loss to Florida pushed the Bulldogs (9-11) to 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference. They have lost seven straight games.
Gottfried agreed to step down on Monday, and longtime assistant Philip Pearson led the Tide (12-8, 2-4) through an 89-80 loss at Arkansas, the Tide’s 15th consecutive SEC road defeat. It was his first game as a head coach.
“I was a little bit anxious and high,” Pearson said of his debut. “Once it got going, the game was a lot of fun. I wish the outcome had been a little different.”
This time, Pearson and his players will have the comfort and support of a home crowd.
The Tide was predicted to win the Western Division, but has so far merely captured the race to get a head start in the coaching search. The Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize on the momentum from winning last season’s SEC tournament.
Now, the two teams meet with hopes of salvaging their seasons.
“That’s kind of ironic, they’re going through the same situation we are,” Georgia guard Zac Swansey said. “Both teams are going through some tough times right now. It’s just going to come down to who wants it more. Both teams have a lot going on with programs and are without the coaches they started the season with. We’re going to see who will come out and fight and scratch and claw and try to come out with a win.”
Added Tide forward Alonzo Gee: “We’re both going through the same thing and we both want to win. We understand each other’s pain.”
In Pearson’s debut, freshman center JaMychal Green had a career-high 24 points. Demetrius Jemison played 15 minutes after failing to get into the Kentucky game.
“I have felt that Demetrius Jemison can be a guy that can help us,” Pearson said. “He’s helped us some in the past. He’s got some experience in the league and he’s been through some wars. I felt like he’s a guy that can help our basketball team.”
Point guard Anthony Brock has also been logging more playing time in the last three games.
The end result, though, was another blow for the week.
“It was pretty tough, going through all that this past week and then having to play on the road,” Gee said. “That was pretty tough to do. I think we adjusted to it. We’re getting better and getting adjusted to (Pearson’s) style of play.”
Herrmann, a former Navy head coach, said the proper mind-set will be important for both teams, especially given what they’ve gone through.
“We’re going on the road so it’s out of our comfort zone in getting ready for the game,” he said. “We just want to make sure our players are on the right path to preparing to compete in the SEC. That’s the hardest part for the players at both schools, to look at this situation and to have a good practice and have a good preparation in getting ready to compete.”
Pearson figures there hasn’t been time for either coach to make major changes to their teams.
“There could be something minor, an out-of-bounds play maybe a little quick-hitter,” he said. “All in all, Pete’s in a situation much like I was, where he’s been involved in one program for a good while. I wouldn’t expect there to be wholesale changes.”