The Georgia Bulldogs (18-9; 7-6) have upcoming back-to-back home games against the South Carolina Gamecocks and the LSU Tigers before embarking on their final road trip of the season next Saturday against Alabama. For the Dawgs to finish the season with a winning conference record (and a really great shot at the NCAA tourney), they need to win two of those three aforementioned games.
Georgia does sport an impressive 7-3 road record this season, however, it’s always good to be home. A loss to either Carolina or LSU would put a world of hurt on UGA’s postseason dance dreams. These are games that Georgia needs to win, and that starts this Saturday night at 7:00PM in Athens, GA (in front of a sold-out Stegeman crowd).
The Dawgs won the first match-up between these two teams in Columbia 60-56, in a game that was a tale of two halves. Georgia out-scored the Cocks 28-9 going into the break, only to let Carolina back in it, allowing them to score 47 to Georgia’s 32 in the second half. The difference-maker in that game was Gerald Robinson, Jr., who limited South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington to just 2 points on 1 of 12 shooting from the floor – his lowest scoring output in an SEC game this season.
Carolina’s offense continues to revolve around the three-point line, which can be somewhat unfortunate for them as they are shooting just 29.1% in league games this season. They are making nearly 7 three-pointers a game though, so the Dawgs better be prepared to close out on the perimeter to limit the number of good looks.
Despite Ellington’s lackluster performance against Georgia earlier this month, the freshman is still having a very solid season, averaging 12.5 ppg and dishing out 2.9 apg. Sophomore Ramon Galloway, who joins Ellington in the backcourt, is netting 11.2 ppg in conference play and is a nice complement to Ellington’s penetration.
Senior Sam Muldrow is leading the Gamecocks in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 rpg) in SEC play, and he continues to lead the entire league in blocked shots with 4.2 per game. He is definitely the glue that holds this team together, and the fact that he can step out and knock down three’s makes him a difficult match-up for opposing bigs.
Coach Darren Horn has gotten great minutes from junior Malik Cooke over the past four games, who is now starting for this Gamecock team. Cooke has really stepped up his game recently, averaging 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds over that same four-game span. He also, interestingly enough, played for two years under Coach Mark Fox’s tutelage at Nevada.
The Dawgs are going to need another great defensive effort from guard Gerald Robinson on Saturday. He shut down Bruce Ellington in Columbia, and Coach Fox could use more of the same in Athens to get Carolina’s offense out of sync.
If Robinson could find some consistency on offense heading down the stretch, that would be wonderful as well. GR2 opened up conference play by averaging 18.0 ppg through the first five games – he scored 17 points twice and over 20 points twice as well.
In the past eight SEC games, however, the highest point total that Robinson has hit in a game is 15, which came in the rematch against Vandy. He is averaging 10.8 ppg over that same stretch of games, yet he’s been held in the single-digits five times. GR2 has looked somewhat unsure of what to do with the ball once he has reached the paint – leading to short misses and turnovers. In my humble opinion, with Robinson’s quickness and explosive first-step, I’d like to see him going all the way to rim and trying to score the ball more himself. Georgia must get more consistent double-digit scoring efforts out of GR2 in the remaining games this season (and post-season).
As easy as it would be to shrug this game off and assume a Georgia home win, it should be noted that South Carolina did go into Gainesville and beat the Florida Gators 72-69 on January 15th – so they are definitely capable. Not to mention that the Gamecocks will surely be looking for a little payback from the first game between these schools.
Georgia needs to approach these last three games of the season with a lot of focus and intensity, and they should look like a team that’s playing for their tournament lives – because essentially they are.
It should be an exciting atmosphere inside Stegeman on Saturday night, especially with the prime time tip-off and just the overall importance of this game.
I’m heading up to Athens in the afternoon.
Who else is going, and what are everybody’s thoughts on this one?