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Post Hoop Dawgs face on- and off-court challenges

Thursday March 1, 2007

I said yesterday that I was surprised that Levi Stukes would get suspended for something other than an academic or legal violation. I was hoping that he wasn’t being punished so severely for something as trivial as being late for the bus. It looks as if it was quite a bit more serious than that. Chip Towers of the AJC reports that Stukes missed a manditory weight session and then had "’an inappropriate verbal altercation’ with a member of Georgia’s strength and conditioning staff." Insubordination and disrespect for the staff, even the support staff, isn’t acceptable.

It’s just so bizarre that all of this comes days after Stukes has a brilliant game against Mississippi State. He was met and recognized by D.A. Layne for breaking Georgia’s career three-pointer mark. He reflected on his career in the Lincoln Financial postgame interview and seemed every bit the elder statesman ready to put the finishing touches on his senior season. He’s never been much of a malcontent, at least not in public, and he’s stayed out of trouble. To be on the cusp of something great as an individual and as a team and then to pop off at a strength coach and blow off a workout seems very out of character. We all have our bad days and tantrums, but what amazingly devastating timing. As the Georgia Sports Blog reminds us, these left-field stories just seem to be the fate of Georgia basketball. Unlike the 2002 game at Rupp where Georgia overcame Chris Daniels’ questionable SEC-imposed first half suspension, they didn’t have the horses last night.

It might not yet be over. Felton sounded in the postgame interview as if there were still some unfinished business regarding this incident that would have to be sorted out when the team returned from Lexington. With Senior Day coming up on Saturday, it will be very interesting to see how this story develops and to what extent the fallout affects the rest of Stukes’ career. The team needs him on Saturday; not just for offense but for perimeter defense against Tennessee guards that can shoot lights out. Some great Georgia-Tennessee games have been decided by Georgia’s three-point heroics. Who can forget Ezra Williams’ heroics in 2002 and 2003? I’d love to see Stukes get a chance to have that kind of an impact in this important of a game, but it’s still unknown whether he will earn that opportunity.

As for the Kentucky game itself, it just reminded me of the Ole Miss game a week ago. Georgia played close in the first half, but a brief flurry right at the end of the half gave Kentucky some cushion. It didn’t take long in the second half for them to push their lead into double-digits as three-pointers started raining. Georgia at least made it interesting this week with a comeback attempt down the stretch, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Steve Newman and Terrence Woodbury performed well with more playing time.

One thing does puzzle me – with Georgia’s three-point specialist at home, the Dawgs attempted more three-pointers than usual. Over 30 of them. They managed to hit 11. In January’s win over Kentucky, Georgia came back and controlled the second half by being much more assertive inside. They outrebounded Kentucky and attempted more foul shots. They attacked and fouled Randolph Morris out of the game. Last night’s game was a completely different story. Morris didn’t have a single foul. Takais Brown looked tentative inside and attempted half as many shots as he did in the earlier meeting. I understand that Georgia had to attempt more three-pointers as the deficit grew, but they were firing from outside from the beginning. It also hurt that Dave Bliss and Albert Jackson were injured, leaving little depth inside.

Our manic-depressive fans who saw this game and Tennessee’s impressive win over Florida are surely back on the ledges today. But if this SEC season has taught us anything, it’s the value of the home court. Georgia, as a rule, plays well at home. Tennessee, as a rule, struggles on the road. Georgia will have the home crowd and all of the motivation they need in Saturday’s game, and it’s in their hands to direct the legacy of this season. It’s just a shame that the postseason isn’t played in Athens.

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