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Florida vs. Georgia, Game Thread: Gators seek to sustain in Athens

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Yante Maten leads a pack of Dawgs the Gators should beat.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s weird that the Florida Gators once played the Georgia Bulldogs just once a season in men’s basketball, right?

That hasn’t happened often since both teams joined the SEC, with the vast majority of the more than 200 meetings between the schools since 1928 coming as part of home-and-home matchups in a single season, but it did happen in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, as Florida played home-and-home games against teams like LSU instead.

And it doesn’t happen this year. Tuesday’s matchup in Athens (7 p.m., SEC Network) will be followed by a Valentine’s Day matchup in Gainesville in two weeks.

But I remark upon all that to tell you this: Florida is a stunning 21-4 against Georgia in men’s basketball since 2005, and has not lost to the Dawgs in four meetings under Mike White.

That’s surprising partly because Georgia has been decent, and occasionally good, over the last decade. Mark Fox has never quite figured out how to balance his recruiting at the flagship school in one of the country’s best states for prep basketball between one-and-done types and four-year players, but he’s made two NCAA Tournaments with the Dawgs — up from the one predecessor Dennis Felton made after inheriting the smoking crater of Jim Harrick’s infamous inability to double as coach and professor.

And Georgia was poised to make a run at another one this year as of, like, two weeks ago: The Dawgs were 12-5 before a recent three-game skid, with wins over St. Mary’s and Marquette in non-conference play.

But while losing to Auburn on the plains games ago was a noble defeat, Georgia’s two losses since — home to Arkansas in overtime, and away to a Kansas State squad that seems destined for the bubble — are cause for serious concern.

And so is Georgia’s increasing reliance on big man Yante Maten, who has blossomed into a likely All-SEC performer as a senior. He has so little help that it’s hard to tell whether he’s taking too many shots, attempting 20 against LSU and matching 16 shots with 16 free throws against Arkansas (albeit in an overtime game), or too few, as when he scored just 14 points on 10 shots in Georgia’s five-point loss to K-State.

Maten is just fractions of points away from averaging 20 and 10, but no other Georgia player is scoring in double figures on average, and only point guard William Jackson II joins Maten in averaging more than 30 minutes. Georgia doesn’t shoot it particularly well, either, which means its stingy defense — especially inside, where Maten, Derek Ogbeide, and Nicolas Claxton send back shots with frequency — will have to carry the day against Florida.

Of course, the Gators have other plans. Chris Chiozza is coming off one of the best games of what has been a spectacular senior season, and Florida’s other three primary scoring options — KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, and Egor Koulechov — all made it to double figures in a decimation of Baylor, a rare feat for a trio comprised of streaky scorers and shooters.

And while Maten is yet another big man Kevarrius Hayes is perhaps a bit undersized to check alone, he will have help from a Florida game plan that is almost certainly designed around limiting Georgia’s star.

Whether that will be enough for Florida to get a win in Athens probably depends on whether Florida shoots and/or defends the three well — as is always the case for this team, really. But Florida picking up a second road win over a rival in the span of four games and a second consecutive win would help plenty with the perception that the Gators have struggled with sustaining success this season.