Defense and free throws lead Georgia to its best SEC start in Mark Fox Era

Georgia (8-6, 2-0) spent the first month of the season near the bottom of the conference in team defense, which makes the Dawgs’ performances this week against Missouri and Alabama all the more shocking. In a span of four days, UGA held the Tigers (56) and the Tide (58) to season-scoring lows during regulation play.

The Dawgs limited Alabama to under 37% shooting from the floor, and matched a season-high of 10 blocks – five of which came from senior Marcus Thornton.

Trevor Releford, who finished with 17 points, failed to convert a basket until finally scoring a lay-up with 30 seconds remaining in the first half. The 6′ Releford found it hard to create offense against a much bigger Charles Mann for the game’s first 20 minutes.

Coach Mark Fox once again got an incredible effort from his team as they out-rebounded the Tide by a count of 41-32. The Dawgs were aggressive all afternoon, snagging 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 10 second-chance points.

Offensively, Georgia struggled to find the basket initially against an athletic Alabama zone. The Tide actually held a 10-7 advantage with less than 9 minutes left before intermission before Kenny Gaines knocked down a three to tie the game at 10-apiece.

Gaines was sensational in the game’s first half, burying 4 three-pointers en route to scoring 16 of his career-high 22 points. His offense sparked a 19-8 UGA run that enabled the Dawgs to take a 34-23 lead into the break.

After shooting 44% from the floor in the first half, Georgia only managed 4 field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes, hitting just 19% of their shots.

Bama managed to cut the Dawgs’ advantage to just 3 points with 7:57 remaining following a Trevor Releford lay-up, and it seemed as though the Tide were poised to take control of the game.

Amazingly, Georgia found most of its second-half offense from the free throw line, where the Dawgs scored 23 of their 32 points after the intermission. UGA entered Saturday’s game shooting just 64% from the charity stripe, yet Georgia was able to convert nearly 71% of their attempts against Bama, which ultimately aided them in holding on and securing the 66-58 victory.

Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines carried the Bulldogs with 22 points each, going a combined 17-21 from the free throw line.

Saturday’s win completes an unbelievable first week in conference play for the Dawgs, and Georgia is currently one of four teams still undefeated in SEC play.

On Tuesday, UGA travels to Gainesville to take on another one of those teams – #10 Florida – in a game that could leave the winner in sole possession of first place in the league.

Who saw this coming a week ago?