With ice bags taped to both legs, Gaines trudged to meet family and friends. As he limped back to the locker room and began to creak his way up the stadium steps, the 200 or so Volunteer fans who stayed around for head coach Bruce Pearl’s radio show gave him a heartfelt ovation.
Pearl thanked his fans for that, and two days later, Gaines still was on his mind. Without being asked about Gaines, Pearl offered a tribute to the Bulldogs’ senior point guard.
“What a tremendous player,” Pearl said on the SEC’s twice-weekly teleconference. “He’s just done a wonderful job. He’s a great, great competitor and without question one of the best guards in our league.”
Gaines, who had 23 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals against the Volunteers, was named SEC player of the week Monday. He has averaged 25 points, 8.5 rebounds and six assists while playing all 80 minutes of the last two games.
Gaines will lead the Bulldogs (12-11, 3-7) against Kentucky (13-10, 7-3) in Rupp Arena today at 9 p.m. in a game televised by ESPN.
“He has really, really turned it up,” Georgia head coach Dennis Felton said. “He stays in constant attack mode, which has been really good.”
Gaines has totaled 82 points in the last three games, the most by a Bulldog in a three-game span since Jumaine Jones had 87 in 1998. Gaines leads Georgia in scoring (15 ppg), rebounding (6.5 rpg), assists (98), steals (47), minutes played (32.9 per game) and free throws made (69).
The player of the week award “let me know that personally I’m being looked at as a big part of this team,” said Gaines, the only player in school history to score more than 1,000 points, grab more than 500 rebounds and dish out more than 400 assists in a career. “Most of all it’s a team sport, but it’s always good to achieve personal honors. Even though we are struggling, they are recognizing the (achievements) I’ve had. Hopefully, it’ll keep going, as well as us winning.”
Gaines’ red-hot run has coincided with the suspension of starting shooting guard Billy Humphrey, Georgia’s second-leading scorer. Humphrey has been replaced in the lineup by freshman Zac Swansey, and Swansey has been a boost to the overall offense, Felton said.
The offense “just seems to have more flow with Zac on the floor because he moves the ball,” Felton said. “Not only does he have the point guard skills and instincts and willingness to pass and distribute and create for teammates, but he also just moves the ball. He doesn’t hold the ball over over-dribble too much, so I think our entire offense is benefiting from that.”
That leaves Felton with a dilemma because Humphrey’s suspension is over, and he will be available tonight against the Wildcats. Felton did not say if Humphrey will return to the starting lineup.
“It’ll be kind of interesting to see how Billy slides back into playing minutes when that happens,” Felton said. “It will be nice to be able to add to our depth versus taking away from our depth, but there is no doubt Zac is playing some good basketball and doing some good things for the good of our team.”
NOTE: Freshman forward Chris Barnes, who is averaging 2.6 points per game, could be finished for the rest of the season. Barnes suffered partially torn meniscus in his right knee Saturday against Tennessee. He will not play today and further testing is needed to know if he’ll be back at all, Felton said. If Barnes is done, Georgia will have to finish the season with eight scholarship players.