It’s no secret.
The easiest way to shut down the Georgia men’s basketball team is to stop Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“Our whole scouting report going into the game was to be ‘Pope-conscious,’” said Mississippi State coach Rick Ray, whose team beat Georgia 72-61 on Saturday in Athens. “That’s the word that we used — ‘Pope-conscious.’”
No team in the Southeastern Conference is as reliant on one player to carry the load offensively as much as Georgia is with the 6-foot-5 Caldwell-Pope.
Heading into tonight’s game at No. 17 Missouri, the sophomore guard from Greenville accounts for 28.4 percent of Georgia’s scoring. He is the only Georgia player who averages double figures in scoring — fifth in the SEC at 16.9. No Bulldogs team in the last 50 years has had just a single player average in double digits in scoring.
“He needs some help around him,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “That’s one of the struggles of our team is finding a consistent second gun. … It makes it harder because teams know he is such a big part of what we do. They play towards him a great deal.”
Caldwell-Pope scored 16 against Mississippi State, but his last field goal of game came with 6:33 left in the first half. He missed all six of his second half attempts when Ray switched his defense to man-to-man after relying on zone earlier due to foul trouble.
The loss dropped Georgia to 6-9 overall and 0-2 in the SEC.
“I know we’re not winning the games that we need to win — and I think we can win more games than what we have — but we’ve invested,” Fox said. “These guys need time. I’ve got a freshman, sophomore and freshman on the perimeter. They need time, but they’re talented players.”
Fox said he knows Georgia needs to bring more offense into the program.
Caldwell-Pope has led or tied Georgia in scoring in all but one game this season.
Georgia is second-to-last in the SEC in scoring (59.5 points per game) and field goal percentage (40.6).
He said signees J.J. Frazier from Glennville and Juwan Parker from Tulsa, Okla. — both guards — can “score the ball.” Forward Houston Kessler, who will come off a redshirt season, “can really shoot the ball.”
Georgia still has a scholarship available for the spring if there is no attrition.
“We need a guy that can finish plays,” Fox said. “We need a good player. … Our whole issue from Day One, really, we didn’t have a lot of offensive players. Travis Leslie really wasn’t, we made him one. We know we have to recruit offensive guys. It’s going to take time to get a deep enough pool of those guys on your team to give you more offense.”
In the meantime, the Bulldogs need help for Caldwell-Pope.
“It takes time though,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We do have a young team. We’ve got to keep improving and getting better. … We do need some people to step up besides me.”
Every other team in the SEC has at least three players in scoring double figures except for Auburn, Arkansas and Vanderbilt, each with two.
“We didn’t think it would be as challenging as it’s been,” Fox said. “We just haven’t been able to establish our frontline play. We’ve just continually changed the lineup up front because we’re just searching for somebody that can consistently perform at the both ends.”
Forward Donte’ Williams scored five points in 25 minutes against Mississippi State.
Sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic — second on the team with 8.1 points per game — scored 21 against Florida A&M and 17 against George Washington prior to SEC play, but he has 11 points and is a combined 4 of 11 shooting in SEC play.
“I need to be there to help,” Djurisic said. “I know and the coaches know that I’m capable of scoring. I need to show up every game.”
Said Fox: “He’s a prime candidate to give us some more production but we need him to be more stable.”
Djurisic has a team-high 40 turnovers.
The lack of interior scoring isn’t all on the post players, Fox said. Freshman point guard Charles Mann has to do a better job of getting the ball inside.
“We’re missing some opportunities there that I think we could get,” Fox said.