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Ching: Fox makes team fun to watch again

Give Mark Fox credit for delivering on a promise. When Georgia’s basketball coach arrived less than two years ago, he vowed that his Bulldogs would play a more entertaining brand of basketball and fulfilled that guarantee almost immediately.

Not that it was particularly difficult for Georgia to progress from the offensive trainwreck that marked Dennis Felton’s last couple of seasons in Athens.

But the Bulldogs haven’t just made small improvements on offense in the short time Fox has been in charge, they’ve become one of the top offensive teams in the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia came into Saturday’s game against Mississippi State as the highest-scoring team in conference play and pushed its scoring average to 76.8 points per game with an 86-64 drubbing of the visiting Bulldogs.

Of course, it helps to have all-conference-caliber veterans like Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie on the roster, but they were around last year when the Bulldogs had only begun to pull out of the offensive doldrums that helped expedite Felton’s departure.

What has made the Bulldogs a more dynamic offensive club is the addition of Gerald Robinson, a guard who can both score from the perimeter and who provides the penetrating threat that was largely absent in recent seasons.

"We kinda knew that’s how it was gonna play out," Robinson said after scoring 17 points Saturday. "On the perimeter, we’re just trying to help take some pressure off Trey and Travis. They get a lot of attention, and we want teams to be able to play us respectful, not just sit back on us and double down on them."

It comes as no surprise that Thompkins and Leslie both rank among the league’s top scorers, but Robinson has arguably been the Bulldogs’ most valuable performer since SEC play began. He’s averaging a team-high 18 points per game, shooting 53 percent from 3-point range and 96 percent from the foul line.

Coupled with Dustin Ware, who ranks fifth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range in SEC play, Robinson is giving Georgia solid guard play that it hasn’t enjoyed in years.

Because of that, opposing defenses can’t sag inside to prevent Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes from having their way in the post. And everybody benefits.

"It makes it a lot easier because they can’t just sit down on me and Trey or me and Chris or any of our bigs," said Price, who scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds while coming off the bench Saturday. "All our bigs can score, but teams can’t just sit down and double-team us all night because you’ve gotta defend Dustin. You have to defend Gerald, and Travis is becoming a better and better jump shooter. You can’t just sit down and guard the bigs, you have to guard everybody at every position.

"For me, it’s off the chart way more fun."

It’s more fun to watch from the stands, as well.

Georgia’s games near the end of Felton’s tenure sometimes felt like the basketball equivalent of a root canal, with the Bulldogs exhausting nearly all of the shot clock before someone threw up a poor shot to beat the buzzer.

Fox didn’t inherit a legitimate two guard from that club, and that was evident at times last year when opponents knew they would win if they kept the Bulldogs from beating them inside.

He has that player now in Robinson and the versatility the Tennessee State transfer brought to Georgia’s offense is the basis for a most effective makeover.

"It’s definitely more fun," Robinson said. "It’s not stressful for anybody at all because anybody can bring it up. … It makes us very versatile and it’s a lot more fun."

Certainly it impacts the Bulldogs’ level of fun that they’re also winning. Now 14-4 overall and 3-2 in league play, they appear well on their way to a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Credit Fox for bringing in a difference maker of Robinson’s caliber and adding another element to a team that seemed on the cusp of big things last year. Adding a guard who can score in multiple ways, as well as handle the ball, to the Thompkins-Leslie tandem has made watching Georgia basketball more entertaining than it has been in years.

Just as Fox promised.

View more photos from last night’s game.

• David Ching is sports editor for the Banner-Herald. Phone: 706-208-2241.  E-mail: david.ching@onlineathens.com.

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