ATHENS -- Boiled down, there are two reasons for the Georgia mens basketball teams amazing surge the second half of the season.
Star guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has taken his game up a notch, going from pretty good to a legitimate SEC player of the year candidate.
The rest of the team has improved, going from tentative offensively to scoring in key situations, not just depending on Caldwell-Pope.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, whose team fell 72-62 to Georgia on Thursday night, put it this way when praising the turnaround by Georgia head coach Mark Fox: His star is being his star, and every other kid is doing what he is supposed to do. Theyre defending, theyre playing tough with low turnovers, and its just good stuff.
The difference for Georgia on the stat sheet is only a subtle one: Caldwell-Pope has been the teams leading scorer in 13 of the past 14 games. No other player is averaging in double figures. In fact, no other player is even averaging eight points a game.
This was the problem early in the season, when the Bulldogs were 7-11 to start the season and lost four of their first five SEC games. The team was heavily dependent on Caldwell-Pope, who occasionally pressed too much because he was being asked to do so much.
But something clicked in the second half of the season. Freshmen Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris have improved, with Mann emerging as a potent offensive threat. Sophomore Nemanja Djurisic has recovered from a rough start and hit two big 3-pointers in the second half against Kentucky.
In fact the list of contributors goes deep on the bench. Senior guards Sherrard Brantley and Vincent Williams are hitting 3-pointers, big men Donte Williams and John Florveus are getting some more baskets.
I guess later in the year, this is around the team youre supposed to be more comfortable, Williams said. A lot of people are shooting the ball, a lot of people are making plays. So its a good thing.
Fox broke it down, saying, Kentavious was playing too aggressive early in the year. Hes calmed down, finally. We got him to calm down so he can become a much more efficient player. He didnt play well to start the year, and when your best player doesnt play well, everybody else is on edge, and the young guys were not comfortable. But youre right, they are more comfortable on the floor now, so were able to have better possessions, fewer turnovers.
Georgia (15-15 overall, 9-8 SEC) enters Saturdays regular-season finale at Alabama with a chance to finish anywhere from sixth to ninth in the SEC. It depends on what happens in its own game, as well as how Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU play.
Whatever happens, the worst the Bulldogs can do is finish .500 in SEC play during the regular season, which would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago.
That would be great to leave the SEC with a winning record, Brantley said. Just because we started 1-4, so for us to make up for that and then top that, that would be great.