The first time Georgia (15-16,9-9) and LSU (18-11,9-9) met this season, the Dawgs rode Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 22 points en route to a 67-58 home victory – their first SEC win of the season. The victory over the Tigers set the Bulldogs off on a run in which they would win 5 of their next 6 games, with the lone loss coming at Florida.
LSU had a “UGA-like” resurgence as well following the loss to the Dawgs, which put them at 0-4 in league play. Since that game, the Tigers have posted a 9-5 conference record, notching wins over Missouri, Alabama and Arkansas.
A large part of LSU’s improved play has rested on the broad shoulders of sophomore big man Johnny O’Bryant III, who has put together an All-SEC calibre season. In conference play, O’Bryant averaged 14.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. The 262-pound forward has registered 11 double-doubles in his 18 SEC games this year. In the loss to Georgia back in January, O’Bryant netted 16 points to go along with 14 boards.
Containing O’Bryant’s physicality in the paint will be a challenge for the Dawgs on Thursday. However, Georgia’s biggest challenge in their first tournament game could be more emotional than physical. After suffering yet another heart-breaking road loss at the buzzer in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, UGA must regain its poise and be ready to deal with a competitive LSU team.
No team in the SEC has had worse luck away from home than Georgia this season, with the Dawgs losing in overtime to Ole Miss as well suffering 2-point, 1-point and 3-point losses at Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively.
Obviously, how deep UGA goes into the tournament in Nashville relies heavily on the play of KCP, the SEC Player of the Year. The sophomore averaged 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals in league games this season, and he played an integral part in all 9 of the Dawgs’ league wins. The true measure of an MVP is how important he is to his team’s success, and Pope – without question – has been absolutely essential to this UGA squad.
In the latest NBAdraft.net projection for the 2013 draft, the site had KCP going at the 30th pick of the first round – the last pick.
Win or lose on Thursday, hopefully it will not be Pope’s last game as a Bulldog.