March 2, 2012

Hoops seniors bid adieu

No, the season hasn't quite gone the way Georgia's four seniors had hoped it would.

But according to head coach Mark Fox, when Dustin Ware, Gerald Robinson Jr., Connor Nolte and Matt Bucklin will look back and appreciate what it meant.

"I think that at the end of the day it will have meant a lot to them. I think early on both Gerald and Dustin tried to do too much. They didn't handle that right, but I admire them trying to do more than they should have," Fox said. "But I think at the end of the day they represented Georgia very well."

The quartet will make their final appearance at Stegeman Coliseum Saturday afternoon (1:45 p.m., SEC-TV) when the Bulldogs (13-16, 4-11) entertain South Carolina (10-19. 2-13) in the regular season-finale heading into next week's SEC Tournament in New Orleans.

Fox plans on letting his seniors go out in style, as all four are expected to start the contest, including Bucklin, whose Bulldog career has been relegated to mop-up minutes, usually in the final moments of games.

"I think he will handle it fine," Fox said. "He's got great poise and has got a very high basketball IQ. Vince (Williams) gets frustrated playing behind Gerald and Dustin; imagine what Bucklin feels like, but I think he will react just fine."

Ware has reasonable shot at joining an exclusive club in Georgia's next two games as he is within reach of becoming just the seventh player in Bulldog history to score 1,000 points and have 350 assists in his career.

He needs just 22 points to reach the mark. Should he do so, he will become just the 3rd player in UGA history to reach 1,000 points by making more 3-pointers than 2-pointers; G.G. Smith (1996-99) and Levi Stukes (2004-07) are the others. Should Ware reach that 1,000-point mark, he'd also become the third member of UGA's 2007-08 recruiting class to do so.

"It's been a fun career," Ware said recently. "Things haven't gone the way we would have liked this year, but I've enjoyed playing here and wouldn't change it for the world."

Fox has been glad to have him.

"Dustin has been a great model of consistency, always considered one of, if not the hardest worker, never doubting what kind of effort he was going to put in throughout the season or out of the season," Fox said. "He's been a constant performer in the classroom, someone you never worried if he was going to have success or not. He's been a great citizen, really and as we started to come in and change the culture, he's been a great example for everyone to look at."

Not that it's been easy.

Ware found himself out of the starting lineup for a handful of games this season while he attempted to regain what's been an inconsistent shooting touch.

"I think he always shoulders more of the responsibility that is fair...He told me the other night he thinks I cost them a couple of games; I told him he just didn't make some of his shots, but it's not fair for you to swallow all that burden; it's not fair," Fox said. "I think he's got great pride in Georgia - all of them. When Travis and Trey left, they knew the challenges that they would face and I think Dustin, he has great pride in our team and he's invested a lot in it, they all have and I think it was a pretty doggone good effort."

Ditto for Robinson, who has scored over 800 points during his two seasons in Athens after transferring from Tennessee State.

"Last year he was the difference in the team. He brought an element that the team didn't have before and helped us get in the NCAA Tournament. He wasn't the only reason we got in the NCAA Tournament but he made a huge different in that group," Fox said. "This year, he had a very good conference season and I think it just proves that what he thought, he could play at a higher level. I believe he could be a successful player at a higher level and he's proven himself right."

A bad hamstring has hampered Nolte for most of the year.

"He's just been riddled with injuries, especially his hamstring," Fox said. "I can still see him running down the court and falling like he had been shot by a sniper. He played a bigger role last year, but just hasn't been healthy and missed a month of practice."