Dec. 3, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Brian Gregory last season became the first Georgia Tech basketball coach to win in Athens since 1976, and tonight he and the Yellow Jackets will have the opportunity to beat Georgia in consecutive games for the first time since ’92-’94 (all in the old Omni).
That would be a rather large deal since, as junior Brandon Reed said, “The schools have history of hate so this game means a lot more than most other games.”
To get it done, the Jackets (4-2) would be well advised to ignore the Bulldogs’ record (2-5), note how well UGA played against No. 1 Indiana and No. 11 UCLA, and then go about their business much the way they have to date this season.
Georgia is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-centric, as the sophomore guard has led the ‘Dawgs in scoring in every game to the tune of a 17.6-point average, and he’s their leading rebounder (6.0) as well.
Tech tends to spread work around more evenly, and not just because Gregory has routinely been deploying 10 players.
“Nobody has to be a hero,” said freshman guard-forward Marcus Georges-Hunt. “Everybody just leave it all on the floor, give it all you got, dive on loose balls, just make the right play.”
Georges-Hunt is the Jackets’ second leading scorer (11.0), trailing Kam Holsey (11.2) – who has come off the bench.
If you haven’t seen Tech play yet this season, you’ve missed the chance to be optimistic about what’s going on down on The Flats.
Holsey has led the Jackets in scoring or tied for honors twice, Georges-Hunt has done so twice, and Mfon Udofia, Robert Carter Jr. and Reed have each led or tied for honors once. There has been a similar spread in rebounding numbers.
The Jackets may not yet be bulging at the seams with NBA-ready players, but they clearly have a plan.
This team has a map, and unlike some occasions in the past where there may have been talk of a map only to have players appear as though they weren’t all reading the same one or couldn’t read it right, Tech appears on the same grid.
The Jackets may not always follow the map perfectly, but they’re reading the same one. They have a formula, and it’s not luck.
“I think I’ve matured a lot more,” said Reed, who led Tech with 19 points in a win over St. Mary’s on Nov. 25. “There were times last year when I would hang my head or get frustrated or confused because I based my game on whether I was making shots or not.
“Coach this summer told me I cannot let my scoring affect whether or not I play defense or be a vocal leader for this team. He’s told me that a lot of times. I kind of re-directed my thinking.”
The Jackets may have to re-direct their thinking tonight if Udofia doesn’t play. He sprained his ankle last Wednesday at Illinois. It looked bad at the time, and he appeared to have a bit of a limp Monday. He was in uniform, however, and Gregory is not ruling out the senior point guard who led the Jackets with 16 points in a Nov. 23 loss to Cal.
“I would say game-time decision.” Gregory said. “That’s up to him and the doctors. They went to school a lot longer than I did.”
Udofia is Tech’s third double-digit scorer (10.2), is shooting 55 percent and leads the Jackets with 19 assists. Graduate student Pierre Jordan likely would start if Udofia cannot, but ball-handling duties would be spread around.
That is not the Jackets’ lone concern.
Georgia has suffered some humbling losses, chiefly at home to Youngstown State and Southern Miss, but the ‘Dawgs were quite competitive for a long time before losing 66-53 to Indiana in the Progressive Legends Classic. They gave UCLA grief in the same tournament before falling 60-56.
More specifically, Georgia has in Caldwell-Pope a national-caliber shooting guard.
“He’s grown over the last year as a player. He was maybe a little more one dimensional last year in terms of just shooting the 3, but he’s able to put the ball on the floor a little more and using ball screens extremely well,” Gregory said. “He’s also . . . uses his length [Caldwell-Pope is 6-feet-5] to create some problems defensively.”
Speaking of that end of the floor, Caldwell-Pope is by far the Bulldogs’ leading defensive rebounder (32 to forward Marcus Thornton’s 23) and by an even greater margin he is UGA’s leader in steals (19 to point guard Vincent Williams’ seven). He’s second in assists (16 to Williams’ 21).
All of that has come up, but rebounding perhaps the most. Some Jackets have tailed off dramatically here.
Center Daniel Miller grabbed 10 and nine caroms in Tech’s first two games, but the 6-11 ½ junior has gone 3-4-1-2 since. (Similarly, coaches would like to see Miller play more aggressively on offense.) Georges-Hunt grabbed 20 boards in Tech’s first three games, but just six in the past three now that opponents have seen his tape.
This is a process, and here comes a bubble in the line that annoys the coach. Gregory said the recent boardwork, “has not been acceptable. We teach to rebound as a unit where sometimes you’re not going to rebound, but you make sure your guy is not going to get it. When we defensive rebound, we become a much better offensive team.”
The bottom-line, do it all and do it hard.
“I feel like everybody is putting everything together,” Georges-Hunt said. “We have the same mindset: we don’t have to score 20 points apiece, we score when we can . . . if you’re having a bad night scoring, do something in another way, get a steal, make deflections. Leave it all out there.”
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