ATLANTA (AP) — Mark Fox may be running out of time to find a way to save Georgia’s season — and perhaps his job.
Georgia heads to Wednesday’s game at Florida having lost three straight games and six of seven. The Bulldogs (13-11, 4-8 Southeastern Conference) may need to win at least five of their last six games and then have a strong run in the SEC Tournament to be considered for a NCAA bid.
There has been no sign Georgia is poised for such a strong finish. Instead, Fox is facing perhaps the most difficult challenge of his nine years in Athens.
“Obviously our confidence has been shaken,” Fox said after the Bulldogs’ 78-61 loss to No. 8 Auburn on Saturday.
Each of Georgia’s three straight losses — to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Auburn — has come by at least 15 points. The trip to Florida provides a needed reminder of Georgia’s home win over then-No. 23 Florida on Jan. 30, the Bulldogs’ only win since mid-January.
Fox is looking for ways to improve Georgia’s defense and rebounding. He surprised observers Saturday when he acknowledged he’s still trying to replace last year’s leader, point guard J.J. Frazier.
“We’re disappointed in our backcourt play and obviously it’s been a challenge to replace Frazier and we haven’t found a way to effectively do that yet,” Fox said.
Fox had ample time to prepare for the exit of Frazier, a senior. Fox and his staff bear responsibility for the inability to find reliable backcourt leadership after 24 games.
The timing of Fox’s comment on his backcourt was especially bad, because Auburn’s leading scorer in the win over the Bulldogs was guard Jared Harper, from Mableton, Georgia. The Tigers won despite playing without top scorer Bryce Brown, another guard from Georgia.
Despite Auburn’s success finding talented players in the state of Georgia, recruiting could help Fox keep his job. Fox has the nation’s No. 1 class of commitments for 2019, according to 247 Sports. In December, Fox landed verbal commitments from a five-star prospect, point guard Ashton Hagans from Covington, Georgia, and small forward Elias King, a four-star prospect from Snellville, Georgia.
Only Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity knows if the 2019 recruiting class could impact a decision on Fox’s future. McGarity declined comment to The Associated Press on Monday when asked about Fox’s status.
Maten, who leads the SEC with his 19.4 points per game, has provided Georgia’s only consistent production.
Maten said he hasn’t given up on the season.
“I haven’t given up in anything in my life,” Maten said. “Being a leader of this team, I’m going to relay that message that we don’t give up. That’s not how we roll at Georgia. At the end of the day, we made our own bed so we’ve got to fix it and keep rolling.”
Fox is 158-129 at Georgia. He has earned only two NCAA bids in his first eight seasons, losing in the first round in 2011 and 2015.
With Maten’s return for his senior season, this was the season for Fox to show he can make the program more than a regular visitor to the NIT. If the Bulldogs can’t stop their freefall, even the NIT may not be a postseason option this year.
Fox said a recent stretch where the Bulldogs played six of nine on the road “got the best of us.” He said defense and rebounding have been the problem in each of the last three losses.
He knows responsibility for those struggles “all falls on me.”
“It’s totally on the coaches to make sure we have a scheme ready to go,” Fox said. “Now the individual has to emotionally and mentally get himself ready to play. We have to find a way to push those buttons. The responsibility totally falls on me.”