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Post Key mid-week home tests ahead for men’s and women’s hoops

Wednesday February 16, 2011

Georgia’s men’s and women’s basketball teams each face important home games this week that could significantly affect their place in the SEC standings and even their postseason position.

Saturday’s near-collapse at South Carolina almost made any conversation about the postseason moot, but the Georgia men live on. They enter tonight’s game with Vanderbilt owners of the SEC’s fourth-best record, but there are eight teams sitting between 6-4 and 4-6.

It’ll be nice to play this one in Athens instead of Nashville, and it will be REALLY nice not to play the game after an exhausting snow-delayed bus ride. Vandy is just 1-3 in SEC road games, but those losses included close calls at Tennessee and Florida. Key of course is stopping John Jenkins, but it was the strong performance by forward Festus Ezeli that made the difference last time. Ezeli was the central point of a Commodore attack that relentlessly went at the basket. As a result, the Bulldogs faced foul trouble early and ended up putting Vandy on the line 35 times. Georgia’s going to have to be much more disciplined on defense and even consider a zone to avoid those same kinds of problems.

That foul trouble contributed to issues on the other end. Barnes and Price only had a combined two points. Georgia’s perimeter offense also went cold after some early success. Dustin Ware was an abysmal 1-9 shooting. Ware’s play in this rematch takes on added importance in light of Gerald Robinson’s recent slump. Though Robinson had a solid 20 points in Nashville, he’s averaging under 10 PPG in Georgia’s last six outings. Travis Leslie had 13 points at South Carolina, but the rest of the guards combined for only 12.

So the job against the Commodores is a big one: get much better production and foul discipline out of the posts while getting the backcourt out of their own slump. Thompkins of course will be the focus of Georgia’s attack, but he can’t do much without those other pieces contributing. The Dawgs have quietly won three in a row in the conference, but it’s been a while since they’ve faced a team of Vanderbilt’s quality. Georgia’s just 2-3 at home over the past month, and that includes a narrow overtime win over Auburn. A much more energetic effort and a strong crowd has to be there for Georgia to get this pivotal win.

The Lady Dogs are in slightly better position after their own road scare last weekend. They currently sit alone in 2nd place in the league with a 9-3 conference record, and they’re pretty much locked in for yet another trip to the NCAA Tournament. But there is just a two-game separation between second place and sixth place. That’s significant because Georgia’s next two games are against Top 20 opponents. The Lady Dogs are just 2-3 against SEC teams with winning conference records, and their January win at Kentucky was their only win of the year over a ranked opponent. So while Georgia has managed to fight to the top of the standings after 75% of the season, they’ll have to raise their level of play against Kentucky and Tennessee to stay there.

We saw last year how four teams ended up tied for third place, and Georgia fell all the way to 6th in the tiebreaker. That was unusual, but there are four teams right now just below Georgia in the standings at either 8-4 or 7-5. A win over the Wildcats would give Georgia clear separation from that group; a loss would plunge them right back into a scenario that leaves them with a lot of work to do for one of the four tournament byes.

Kentucky has had an outstanding season, but a small upset a week ago at South Carolina knocked them out of second place. Consecutive road games at Georgia and Vanderbilt will likely define their season, so Georgia should expect a focused challenge. Georgia freshman guard Khaalidah Miller was the story of the first meeting. Miller poured in 24 points to break Kentucky’s 25-game home winning streak, but she’s been held scoreless in Georgia’s last two games.

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