NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Yante Maten returned to the floor for Georgia on Thursday. The assumption was that this would result in a resurgence for the Bulldogs, who played without their injured star the previous four games.
That was not necessarily the case. Maten's return was a big factor in Georgia's 59-57 second round SEC Tournament win over Tennessee. He scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 26 minutes.
However, the re-insertion of Maten back into Georgia's rotation is a work in progress, one which Georgia hopes to expedite with top-seed Kentucky looming in the quarterfinals on Friday at Bridgestone Arena.
"Obviously, we had to totally reinvent our team without him," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We played completely different. How quickly we can get back to playing a little bit like we did before and still, you know, little bit like we did the last two weeks, that's going to be the challenge."
Maten, who entered the tournament tied for third in the SEC in scoring at 18.7 points per game, returned from a Feb. 18 knee sprain wearing a bulky brace on his right knee. He wasn't moving particularly well. He appeared out of rhythm. And instead of the bench, he spent his time off the court staying warm on a stationary bike.
Maten admitted afterward he wasn't playing in pain, but was a bit out of sync.
Asked if he felt rusty, Maten said, "A little bit. Not so much for my teammates, I still know their tendencies. My rust, personally, I did have to knock off a little bit."
It affected Georgia. In the first half, the Bulldogs turned the ball over 10 times. J.J. Frazier, who averaged 29.6 points over his last five games, seemed passive and off balance.
"I don't think I managed his re-entry into our team as well as I hoped," Fox said. "I thought we were very out of rhythm and had more turnovers at the half than we've been averaging the last couple games. We got to bridge that gap a little better than we did tonight."
Georgia will need to do so in a hurry with Kentucky and its rabid fans awaiting. The Bulldogs have come close to upsetting the Wildcats over the past calendar year.
In last year's SEC Tournament, Georgia led 49-44 at halftime before eventually falling, 93-80. Georgia then took Kentucky to overtime in Rupp Arena earlier this season, and lost by a five-point margin in Athens in the game which Maten was injured 95 seconds in.
"We've had a couple games in row with Kentucky that have been great games, but we haven't been over the hump," Fox said. "We have to do some difficult things. Our team is way different right now, too. We'll have to come up with a obviously a new plan."