Georgia will close 2010 and its non-conference schedule starting tonight, when the Bulldogs tip off against Charleston Southern, and continuing on New Year’s Eve, when they host Eastern Kentucky.
Jason Vorhees/AP Georgia’s Jeremy Price, left, and Trey Thompkins, right, defend against Mercer’s Jeff Smith during the Bulldogs’ win over the Bears. Georgia plays two non-conference games this week.
Looming in the distance is Georgia’s Southeastern Conference opener against Kentucky on Jan. 8, but junior forward Trey Thompkins insists that the Bulldogs (9-2) aren’t focusing on anything but the tasks at hand.
“We look at these games as preparation games and quality games,” said Thompkins, who averages a team-leading 16.9 points per game. “Charleston Southern is a good team and we don’t want to look past them – we never look past anybody. It’s preparation for SEC play, which is going to be so strong this year that we’re going to have to be prepared. It’s good to play against these types of teams.”
“We always take it one game at a time,” junior guard Dustin Ware added. “Right now, we’re just focused on getting better as a team and continuing to improve. We know we have a lot of aspects we can get better at as a team and we’re looking to close out the year strong.”
Coach Mark Fox said he may not have put the team in the most advantageous situation in its last game, a 56-53 squeaker at Mercer two days before Christmas, but he believes the Bulldogs will not overlook Charleston Southern (6-6) or Eastern Kentucky (5-7).
“The other night, I put our players in a difficult situation – it was a game on the road, we had one day to prepare and (it was) right before Christmas,” Fox said. “We got off to a good start and I think we started looking for Santa Claus. And then things changed in a hurry.
“Hopefully we’ve learned a lesson in that we’ve got to make sure we take care of not just every game, but every possession. The older guys are starting to understand that – it doesn’t mean they always follow through, but they are starting to recognize that is an important part of this.”
Although the Bulldogs are off to their best start since posting an 11-1 mark to open the 2001-02 season, their margins of victory have been too close for comfort on a number of occasions. Removing Georgia’s 47-point victory over High Point on Dec. 21 from the equation, the Bulldogs’ other eight wins have been by an average of four points.
Thompkins and Ware agree, however, that those razor-thin margins could prove to be helpful in league play.
“Close games always teach a lesson,” Thompkins said, “whether you’re supposed to win by a few points or you’re supposed to win by a large margin. We use them as preparation. I don’t imagine there will be a lot of blowout games in the SEC, so the fact that we’ve played in several close ones should give us an edge against some teams.”
“Close games definitely prepare you for conference play,” said Ware, who’s averaging 7.6 points per game. “The SEC is always one of the strongest conferences in the country and we know there are going to be pretty tight games throughout the whole year. We’ve got a lot of experience in those situations and I think that will help us out a lot.”
Now in his second year at the helm of the Bulldogs, Fox said he felt the team’s pre-SEC schedule has placed the team in a position to succeed in the 2011 portion of their season.
“We’ve played a Big 12 team (Colorado), an ACC team (Georgia Tech), a Big East team (Notre Dame) and a couple of Atlantic 10 teams (St. Louis and Xavier), so I feel we’ve been battle tested,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of close games, which hopefully will prepare us for league play. We haven’t had a lot of breathers, which I wish we could find a few more of those so our young guys could really get the experience they need, but we haven’t found a lot of those. We haven’t been able to experience everything we’d like, but I do think we’re making progress.”