Now at the halfway point of its Southeastern Conference schedule, Georgia’s turnabout has been fueled by big scoring outputs from guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and contributions from deep down the Bulldogs’ bench.
Georgia coach Mark Fox is using an 11-player rotation — 10 of whom got at least 11 minutes Wednesday in a 68-62 win at Tennessee.
Caldwell-Pope has averaged 21.3 points per game during the Bulldogs four-game winning streak, and while he is still carrying the team offensively like he has all year, the other Bulldogs are picking up the slack lately.
“The team is stepping up,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Besides me to score the ball, we’ll have like five or six guys to score the ball and that’s helped us a lot during games when we need it in big situations if I can’t get the ball and need other people to score. They’ve been doing that since we’ve been winning four in a row.”
Georgia, which will try to make it five straight in today’s 5 p.m. home game against Texas A&M, is shooting 44.3 percent from the field in SEC play, behind Florida, Kentucky and Missouri.
“We just have more guys who are getting comfortable and have been able to chip in,” said Fox, whose team is on its longest regular season SEC win streak since 2003. “We have been playing like a team. I like that about this group.”
Caldwell-Pope is easily scoring more than double any other Georgia player in SEC play — and hitting clutch shots in key parts of games — but guards Charles Mann (7.6 ppg), Vincent Williams (6.4), forward Nemanja Djurisc (6.0) and guard Kenny Gaines (5.1) have all had their moments during the Bulldogs’ run.
Georgia (11-11, 5-4 SEC) had three players score in double figures the past two games. That last happened before then on Dec. 29.
“Just trying to make Kentavious’ load a little lighter,” Gaines said. “We’re going to need him throughout the rest of the season, so we don’t need him to tax his body as much. We’re trying to get a couple of guys to chip in here and there so he won’t have to shoot as many shots or play as hard.”
Fox sensed his team was exhausted heading into the game in Knoxville on Wednesday. He played 10 different players before five minutes had even elapsed in the game.
“It’s one of the things that we really tried to establish — to have some depth,” Fox said. “Eighteen league games, no bye week, it’s going to be important to have some depth. … We felt like that might be a slight advantage for us at some point during the year.”
Gaines, a freshman from Whitefield Academy, delivered a career-high 11 points — all in the second half — in the win at South Carolina a week ago and then topped it with 12 Wednesday, including connecting on a 14-footer after Tennessee had tied the game with just over 13 minutes to play.
“I think it’s just being more patient within the system,” said Gaines, has improved on the defensive end as well. “Earlier in the year, I was kind of rushing a lot of shots because in high school I was a real impact scorer. Now, I’m being a little more patient and seeing a lot of things open up.”
Also pitching in is center John Cannon. He scored eight points at South Carolina and came off the bench to score on the low block before the first media timeout at Tennessee to help Georgia get out to an 11-4 lead. He’s shooting 50 percent in SEC games.
“I’m just looking to go in and do whatever I can to help the team,” said Cannon, a 6-foot-10 sophomore from Burnsville, N.C. “Coach needs me to go in and get rebounds I’ll try to do that if I can, maybe make a basket here and there, play hard on defense and try to help my team any way I can.”
Addressing home attendance
Georgia is home today for the first time since Jan. 30. The Bulldogs have actually had more success on the road in the league (3-2) than at home (2-2). Georgia is averaging an SEC-low 5,594 fans at home. It drew 4,767 against Auburn in its last home game when stormy weather was a contributing factor.
“I think these kids have committed themselves to this school and they all graduate, they’re good citizens and they’re playing their tails off for Georgia,” Fox said. “I think people appreciate that and hopefully they’ll show their appreciation by coming to the game.”
Caldwell-Pope thinks the Bulldogs winning ways will eventually transfer over to more fans in the seats.
“I think it will pick up,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It should. If not, we’re just going to continue to do what we do.”