Georgia, though, is beyond being saved by valiant efforts, so Gaines’ career-high 32 points went for naught Saturday in a 77-67 loss to Florida in front of 12,131 fans in the O’Connell Center.
“I’m kind of happy, 32 points,” Gaines said. “I missed a lot of chippies. I should have had 40. Thirty-two is great, but at same time, I’d rather have 10 or 12 and we be winning.”
That hasn’t happened in a while. The Bulldogs (11-10, 2-6 SEC) dropped their fifth straight overall and ninth straight to the Gators (19-5, 6-3).
Here are the forces Gaines was fighting: Georgia was playing with only eight scholarship players thanks to the suspension of starting shooting guard Billy Humphrey; the Bulldogs were outscored 27-0 in bench points and 29-5 in points off turnovers, and they turned the ball over 20 times.
For 35 minutes, Gaines was enough to counteract all that. He hit a 3-pointer with 16:16 remaining in the game to give him 21 points and pull Georgia within one at 48-47. At that point, he was two points shy of his career best in an SEC game.
However, the next time him hit a field goal there was 3:12 left in the game and the Bulldogs trailed 73-59.
“We just didn’t look for him (during that stretch),” said freshman Zac Swansey, who started in place of Humphrey. “That goes back to us. We should have gotten him the ball more down the stretch.”
Gaines, who shot 11-of-20 from the field and also has nine rebounds and five assists, played 38 minutes, but fatigue was not a factor in his silent stretch, he said.
“The name of the game was turnovers,” he said. “We had a lot of turnovers, so it looked like maybe I wasn’t getting the ball or trying to score. When you turn the ball over, I really don’t get a chance.”
Georgia head coach Dennis Felton wasn’t as sure fatigue didn’t play a role.
“There certainly were stretches of this game where Sundiata and several other players were playing on fumes,” Felton said.
The Bulldogs played almost entirely zone to help their players save energy on defense, and the tactic worked to hold Florida’s leading scorer, freshman Nick Calathes, to just seven points, but freshman Chandler Parsons tossed in 18, his best total yet in an SEC game.
The Gators, who had 20 assists, put the game away with an 11-0 run from the 11:37 mark to the 8:20 mark that pushed their lead from 57-53 to 68-53.
Swansey didn’t learn he was starting until moments before the game. He finished with four points, three assists, four steals and four turnovers.
“It was good for me,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”
Dave Bliss had 13 points and six rebounds, and Terrance Woodbury added 12 points. Florida had four players in double figures and got 10 rebounds from Marreese Speights.
Georgia returns to the court Wednesday to play South Carolina in Stegeman Coliseum.
“These last five games we’ve always been in the game, but I think we have a young team,” Gaines said. “We’re learning. The young guys are learning. Even though we’ve lost these last five games, we’re getting better.”