COLUMBIA, S.C. - While the turnaround hasn't come against a murderer's row, the Georgia men's basketball team is playing quite well right now.
Georgia won its third straight, and four of its past five, with a 67-56 win at South Carolina on Saturday. It came a week after winning at Texas A&M.
As a result, Georgia (4-4 in SEC play) will remain tied for sixth in the conference - and amazingly, considering the poor start, is now in the upper half of the standings:
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Ole Miss 6-2
Texas A&M 3-5
Mississippi State 2-6
South Carolina 2-6
Highlights from the game:
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope once again carried the team in the first half, scoring 16 points. But he only scored three points in the second half. And yet Georgia went from trailing by one at the half to winning by 11.
"They didn't really do anything different," Caldwell-Pope said of South Carolina's defense. "We just had other player score the ball, and that's a good thing for us."
The main person was chip in was freshman Kenny Gaines, an unlikely hero. Gaines started the second half, despite going scoreless off the bench in the first half, and justified the decision by pouring in 11 points, including the first four of the half.
"I just felt like he's been coming on," head coach Mark Fox said. "He has the privilege of practicing against Kentavious every day. most of the time that's not a whole lot of fun, but it's made him a better basketball player. ... I just had a hunch in my gut that it was a really good time to let him have a run at it."
The highlight of Gaines' game was a put-back dunk, over a Gamecock post man, that made it 37-33. Gaines is only 6-foot-2, so it was quite a display of athletic ability.
"In high school I was kind of known for it," Gaines said. "I kind of took a risky chance. Thank God I actually made it."
- Georgia was incredibly hot from the field, making 25-of-43 from the field, including 6-of-13 from beyond the arc. The team got critical 3-pointers in the second half from Gaines, Sherrard Brantley, Vincent Williams - and Caldwell-Pope's lone basket of the half, also a 3.
"Right now everyone's stepping up," Caldwell-Pope said. "That's probably the big difference that we have. At the beginning of the season no one was stepping up. But now they're getting more comfortable, and as we're playing more games they're stepping up and making baskets."
- Once Georgia had the lead on Saturday, it held it down the stretch by hitting critical free throws. That was a big problem in earlier losses. But this time Charles Mann went 4-for-4 in the final few minutes, and Gaines went 2-for-2.
The improved poise near the end of games is something Fox said his friend, head football coach Mark Richt, has noticed as well.
“Coach Richt and I are good friends, and he called me after we played LSU, and he said ‘It looks like your team is starting to get confident late in games.’ For another coach to recognize that means a lot to me,” Fox said.
- Fox was asked if he envisioned this kind of turnaround, after his team was 6-7 in non-conference play, and started 0-3 in the SEC.
“I’ve never not liked our team. I have never not liked our team, all year,” Fox said. “Every day I have liked this team. I’ve never, through the slow start and the hole that we’re still not out of, I have never had a time where I did not like our team. We still have a long way to go. We have so many areas to improve in. But I’ve always liked our team, and I have faith in them, and they’ve always been fully invested in the process, and that’s why they’re finding some success.”