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January 24, 2014
Kentucky up next
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Donte Williams said Friday he doesn't make a habit of checking the SEC basketball standings, but he made an exception following Wednesday's 97-76 win over South Carolina.
Five games into the SEC portion of the schedule, it's something that's worth a gander.
Georgia (10-7, 4-1) enters Saturday's game at No. 14 Kentucky (SEC-TV, 1:30 p.m.) tied with the Wildcats (and Ole Miss) for second place in the SEC standings, a position no doubt few expected the Bulldogs to be in when the season began.
"I checked on my phone … I've got the ESPN app … for the first time since we played Florida," Williams said. "Tied for second …"
Yes, it is hard to believe.
When the season began, the Bulldogs were picked to finish 11th by the league coaches, something junior Nemanja Djurisic said has served as motivation to prove the experts wrong.
"Just to hear all the different opinions and stuff … even when we didn't get off to a good start … the atmosphere and the team stayed the same," Djurisic said. "We stuck together as a group and focused on the winning part. We've had some ups and downs, definitely had a lot of downs, but now we are maturing as a team and ready for more."
Williams doesn't expect the Bulldogs to suddenly start getting ahead of themselves. With 13 conference games to go, it's certainly not time to get complacent.
"Each game we win, we celebrate for five minutes and then get ready for the next one," Williams said. "We've already flushed the South Carolina game and now we're focusing on Kentucky (14-4, 4-1), because they're obviously a very, very good team."
Head coach Mark Fox knows it's going to take a special kind of focus to be successful in Rupp Arena, one of the more storied venues in the entire nation.
So far, the Bulldogs are 1-1 in league road games, winning 70-64 in overtime at Missouri before getting shellacked 72-50 at Florida last week.
"We've got to play with a level of composure that we did not play with at Florida. We've got to play with better composure and that's across the board. It's not just one guy's responsibility," Fox said. "We all have to grow up as competitors to learn how to play in an atmosphere like this."
Georgia beat Kentucky 72-62 last year in Athens, but like most years, the Wildcats have constant turnover due to players moving on to the NBA.
No, talent is never lacking in Lexington and this year is certainly no exception as Kentucky features four freshmen who are averaging well into double-figures, led by 6-foot-9, 250-pound Julius Randle, who is averaging a double-double (16.7 points, 10.6 rebounds) every time he steps on the court.
"We did beat them last year, they've got a couple of guys back, a lot of new faces, obviously," Fox said. "Randall's so dominant physically, I'm not sure if anybody matches up with him. Those three kids on the perimeter (James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison) are obviously having great seasons. They're different than they were a year ago, but so are we."
Djurisic said Fox and the rest of the Bulldog coaches have done a good job of getting the players to focus on the task at hand.
"There's some stuff always mentally to be prepared for, whether you're talking success or failure," Djurisic said. "The whole coaching staff is doing a good job of getting us ready for the next game and focus on the game in front of us and don't get too caught up in all the talk, projections and stuff like that. We're only focused on the things in front of us."
The rest, Fox said, is up to the players when the Bulldogs step on the court against the Wildcats Saturday.
"It's still basketball. It still comes down to what happens between the lines. You've got to be able to manage the elements outside," Fox said. "I don't think any of their fans are going to block a shot, but they're obviously going to change the energy level of the arena. We've just got to be composed enough to manage that and play the right way."
NOTE: Fox said that sophomore guard Kenny Gaines (leg bruise) and Juwan Parker (hamstring) suffered minor injuries against South Carolina but both practiced Friday before the team left for Lexington and are expected to play.