ATHENS -- When Alabama beat Georgia twice at the end of last season, the fortunes of the teams were still reversed: Georgia made it to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and Alabama was left out.
The teams met again Saturday night to open SEC play in 2012. This time, when Alabama won yet again, it appeared the futures of each team would be more connected to the final result.
Alabama, in winning decisively 74-59, looks like a team headed for its first NCAA berth since 2006.
Georgia, in being defeated convincingly at home, has a lot of work to do to even be an NIT team.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia (9-6, 0-1 SEC) with 22 points, including a four-point play in the first half. But while freshman forward Nemanja Djurisic chipped in 10 points, once again the Bulldogs were dominated inside.
“It’s tough. They’re a big physical team, and it’s tough to fight with them for 40 minutes,” Djurisic said. “That was I think the biggest reason they won. They’re better on the glass. ... We just need to be much more tougher and a better rebounding team.”
Georgia head coach Mark Fox, whose team was outrebounded 35-20, put it more bluntly.
“They got us good on the glass,” he said. “They whooped us on the glass.”
Georgia has been struggling inside without the injured Marcus Thornton, who had been the team’s leading rebounder. But the inside struggles were there even before Thornton’s injury.
Throw in the fact that the Bulldogs struggled on defense and were 4-for-17 on 3-pointers, and it was a rout.
But Georgia had it close midway through the second half. Caldwell-Pope hit a 3 to make it a six-point game at the 11-minute mark. Donte Williams’ layup made it 52-48.
Alabama answered with a 12-2 run, then ran away with it with a series of transition dunks.
“We got the game at a point in the second half where we needed it to be. We just didn’t take advantage of it,” Fox said.
“We played hard to get it back to four,” Caldwell-Pope said. “And then I guess we just slacked off a little bit, started playing sloppy on the defensive end, and they got some easy baskets.”
Alabama (12-3, 1-0) was led in the first half by freshman guard Trevor Lacey, who poured in a season-high 17 points. Georgia came out in a zone, trying to get Alabama off its game, which doesn’t tend toward the 3-pointer. But it didn’t work early on.
“They made some shots in the first half. They made some NBA 3s,” Fox said. “If they’re gonna shoot a shot, that’s probably one you want them to shoot. I don’t think we played a lot differently to start the second half, we just were a little more effective.”
Georgia faces a tough week with road games at Florida (on Tuesday) and Vanderbilt (on Saturday).
“In the offseason, you were saying these were three of the four best teams (in the SEC),” Fox said. “And we get two of them on the road. It all evens out. This group knows that they’re going to have to grow up, continue to improve throughout the year.”