March 7, 2012

Will history repeat?

WHAT: SEC Tournament: Georgia (14-16) vs Mississippi State (21-10)

WHEN: Thursday, 10 p.m.

WHERE: New Orleans Arena

TV:SEC Network

Ultimately, team statistics in basketball are supposed to tell the story.

But in the case of the Georgia Bulldogs, head coach Mark Fox doesn't know if the final tale is actually a fair representation - especially when it comes to his team's ability to shoot the basketball.

Yes, Georgia enters Thursday's SEC Tournament at the New Orleans Arena against Mississippi State ranked last in the league in field goal percentage, shooting a meager 39.4 percent from the field.

But contrary to what one might think, Fox isn't sure that stat tells the true story of his Bulldogs' ability to put the ball in the hole, something they showed when they beat Mississippi State in Starkville back on Feb. 11, 70-68 in overtime.

"We have a good shooting team, but we haven't shot the ball well all year. We've been a real enigma. We've got a lot of guys who can shoot the three, but just haven't been as consistent shooting it as we hoped," Fox said. "But we did shoot it well that day and I think for us, if we win, that's been one of they keys for us - to make a perimeter jump shot and I'm certain that will be important (Thursday) as well."

It was the first time Georgia and Mississippi State hooked up the last time the two teams played in Starkville back in Feb. 11.

Although the Bulldogs shot just a speck over their season average (40.4 percent), Georgia went 11-of-26 from three-point range, much of the damage coming from freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who went 6-of-12.

"They are a capable team from the 3-point line," MSU assistant Phil Cunningham said. "A lot of it comes from their offense. They do a real good job of running probably the slowest paced offense in the league. They are very good at it. They don't turn the ball over and you've got to guard them for a long possession. At the end it usually ends up with them shooting a three. You have to have some patience and toughness and we didn't do a good job of that last time giving up those three's."

But as Fox is quick to point out, there is not much about that earlier game that Georgia (14-16) can assume will carry over for Thursday's game against the Bulldogs (21-10), who snapped a five-game losing streak by beating Arkansas and South Carolina to close out the regular season.

"They had played a Thursday night game versus a rival (Ole Miss) and had a quick turnaround. We played a Saturday afternoon game and we obviously played on Wednesday so we had a little more prep time. We were a little fresher so I think that was a little bit of an advantage for us in Game One," Fox said. "They had a little burp in their season since we played them but I don't think any team is immune to that. Teams are just so good that you don't recognize those bumps in the road but every good team goes thought it and usually teams that go through a little bit of a struggle wind up being better for it."

Cunningham hopes that's the case.

The five-game losing streak was Mississippi State's longest in six years, although in two of those games, starters Renardo Sidney and Rodney Hood were out of the starting lineups for the Auburn and Alabama games respectively.

But that's not all.

Last week, last forward Arnett Moultrie chastised his teammates and questioned their desire to get their season back on track in time to make a tournament run.

"When you're involved in a losing streak, especially this time of year, it becomes a big issue to the media and the fans," Cunningham said. "Everywhere (the players) turn whether it be on campus or the internet they're talking about a losing streak and its all negativity."

But Cunningham believes the victories over South Carolina and Arkansas has enabled the team to dispense of all the negative vibes.

"We're going into the tournament on an upbeat note coming off that losing streak that we had," said Cunningham. "We had a must win game Wednesday at South Carolina and just somehow found a way to win that. It's really amazing to see how one win can change the level of confidence in the locker room. It did that to this team and I think we showed that on the court Saturday against Arkansas. Our attitude and body language was different than what it's been the past couple of weeks and really displayed itself on the court as well."

But Cunningham knows beating Georgia won't be easy.

"Everybody gets excited about going to the (SEC) Tournament," Cunningham said. "Everybody gets a second chance to play again. Going into this game with Georgia, they were the team that started our losing streak in the first place on February 11th. They were really good that day. They shot the ball well from the perimeter and were 42-percent from the 3-point line," he said. "They really hurt us on the offensive boards. They got 18 offensive rebounds so they are a team that is very capable of beating us. We know that. I think they are one of the most improved teams in the league and have a win over Florida in the last week. It'll be a real challenge for us but our guys will be going into the tournament with some newfound confidence."

NOTE: The Legends Classic set to be held in Brooklyn, N.Y. announced Wednesday that Georgia, Georgetown, UCLA and Indiana will serve as regional hosts in the tourney. The championship doubleheader will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Nov. 19-20.