ATHENS - Georgia has been a pretty good road team. In fact, the Bulldogs have won their last three in a row away from Stegeman Coliseum. If they happen to make it four in a row on Saturday, that would really be something.
In Ole Miss, the Bulldogs (12-12, 6-5 SEC) will be facing their most accomplished opponent since taking on No. 7 Florida on Jan. 23. The Rebels (18-6, 7-4) have encountered rough terrain lately, dropping four of their last five games. But they’re 12-1 at home this season and, thanks to an up-tempo offense led by high-scoring guard Marshall Henderson, have made Tad Smith Coliseum into one of the lively arenas in the SEC this year.
“This is a big challenge because they’ve been good at home and they’ve got a good team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “They’ve got a physical, experienced, talented basketball team. Even though they’ve hit a rough part of their schedule and had a key injury, they’re still a very good team.”
The Rebels’ recent troubles can be traced to key injuries with the schedule ramping up at the same time. They lost both forward Aaron Jones and guard Nick Williams to injuries in the Jan. 29 loss to Kentucky. Jones is out for the season with a knee injury and Williams just recently returned from a foot injury. Both are key bench players, which contributed to subsequent losses to Florida, Missouri and Texas A&M.
Meanwhile, Georgia is trying to get up off the mat itself. The Bulldogs had won five in a row before Alabama knocked them off 52-45 in a nationally-televised game Tuesday night. Now they have to go on the road to face the SEC’s most prolific scoring team. The Rebels lead the SEC and are ranked fifth in the nation in scoring with an average of 79.3 points per game. Georgia averages 59 a game.
“Back to the drawing board,” Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said of the Alabama game. “Really we’ve just got to flush that game. We didn’t play well; we know it. We’ve just got to put that game behind us and move on to the next one.”
The Bulldogs have won the last three times they left the state, beating Texas A&M (52-46), South Carolina (67-56) and Tennessee (68-22). And while they were manhandled by Florida in Gainesville (77-44), they’ve been competitive on the road against virtually everybody else, including then No. 1 Indiana and No. 11 UCLA.
“Historically we’ve had pretty good road teams in my career,” Fox said. “I think that’s because we just aren’t one-dimensional. We try to be complete at both ends of the floor and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Georgia must be especially good on the defensive end against the Rebels. Henderson is a flamboyant 6-foot-2 guard who leads the SEC in scoring with a 19.5 average and is third in the nation at 3.88 3-pointers per game.
“He’s just a terrific shooter and dynamic scorer,” Fox said of Henderson. “He plays with no conscience and he just fills it up.”
As is usually the case when Georgia faces a hot perimeter player, it will be Caldwell-Pope’s task to try to contain Henderson.
“Every game I’m matched up with a great player,” Caldwell-Pope said. “He’s a great shooter, a great player. We’ve just got to do a number on him. That’s going to be a great challenge and we have to be prepared for it.”
The Rebels are also strong inside, however. They feature two of the league’s top rebounders in Murphy Holloway (9.5 rpg) and Reginald Buckner (7.9).
“Holloway and Buckner up front are a load,” Fox said. “Those are, older, physical guys and they’re very good players. Henderson obviously gets a lot of the attention and deservedly so because he’s had such a great year. But they’re scoring because they have an inside-outside combination.”