When Mark Fox looks back at his first season as coach of the Georgia basketball team, he'll fondly recall the efforts of seniors Albert Jackson, Ricky McPhee and Tyler Whatley.
Without their willingness to buy into his system, Fox said the Bulldogs wouldn't be enjoying the success that they have.
"They won't be underappreciated by me. When you rebuild a program, there's often a group that lays a foundation that those who follow reap the benefits from. Some of the guys who lay that foundation don't get to reap all the rewards that some of the guys later on do," said Fox. "Those kids, in situations like that, have a special place in every coach's heart and this group of seniors that I inherited they have been terrific in buying into the direction of the program. They have really made this year easy for me because they have been on board 100 percent from Day 1."
To show his appreciation, Jackson, McPhee and Whatley will each start Wednesday's home finale against third-ranked Kentucky (8 p.m., SEC Network).
McPhee is obviously no stranger to the starting lineup, having started all 27 games for Georgia (13-14, 5-9) while Jackson has played extensively with 16 starts of his own.
Whatley, on the other hand, has just played one minute in one game for the Bulldogs since transferring from Wofford two years ago.
Nevertheless, Fox said the former Apalachee High will be on the court when the Bulldog challenge the Wildcats (27-2, 12-2), who held on to a 76-68 victory back in January at Rupp Arena.
"We will start our seniors, I think they've earned that right," Fox said. "You do that when you can; if you got six guys, it's tough, but we will start our seniors."
Fox said that decision dates back to a tradition he started while at Nevada.
"Trey's (Thompkins) has been wanting to play some point," Fox joked.
Beating the Wildcats wouldn't be a laughing matter.
With a victory over John Calipari's squad, Georgia will hold wins over the six other teams in the SEC East, a feat Fox admits would hold great meaning for his first Bulldogs squad.
"That would be quite an accomplishment for this group. To beat Kentucky, not only are you beating a team - not a good team, but a great team - that's a team that is terrific," Fox said. "They have an outstanding team and are just getting better and better. They're better now than they were two months ago. We're better, too but they're terrific."
The game is listed as a sellout, but this year it's not Wildcat fans that are scooping up the tickets that remained.
This time, it's Bulldog boosters who are filling the seats.
"We've done a complete 180. Last year, we had more Kentucky fans than we did Georgia fans and when we walked off the court, all you could hear was that 'UK' chant," Jackson said. "You should never hear the other team chant in your gym. That happened last year, but like I said it's been a complete 180. People are coming to cheer for us and watch us play. They come to see us go all out and play as hard as we can. It's a good feeling knowing your fans are there to watch you and not the other team, no matter how good they are."
With two regular season games remaining, the Bulldogs would love nothing more than to reach .500 heading into next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville.
However, Fox is more concerned with the here and now - not Saturday's finale at LSU, not his Bulldogs' opening round game in the SEC Tourney.
"I do think this team will continue to improve and we're better at this point than we've been at any other time this season," Fox said. "But we haven't talked a lot about where we sit in terms of the standings, we're just trying to be as good of a team that we can be and hopefully that will lead to some wins."
No. 3 Kentucky at Georgia
WHERE: Stegeman Coliseum
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
RECORDS: Georgia 13-14, 5-9; Kentucky 27-2, 12-2
TV: ESPN360/SEC Network
RADIO: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network
NEXT GAME: Saturday, at LSU, 5 p.m.
NOTES: Georgia wraps up its 2009-10 home schedule when it entertains Kentucky. The Bulldogs arrive at this game with a 13-14 record, 5-9 in SEC games. Most recently, they improved their record with a 78-76 victory over Florida last Saturday in Athens.
It's been almost two months since these two teams last met. They opened the SEC schedule in Lexington on Jan. 9, with Kentucky pulling away in the final seconds for a 76-68 victory. Georgia led this game for much of the middle portions and was within a single possession inside the final minute.
The Florida game on Saturday marked the seventh time this season that a Georgia game was decided on the final possession, and the third time Georgia emerged victoriously from the close outcome.
Kentucky represents the eighth game that Georgia has played against an opponent ranked in the AP Top 25 at game time.
From a purely Georgia perspective, two elements from the first UGA-UK matchup remain vivid: 1) the Bulldogs committed 26 turnČovers in that first game, a season high they've not even approached in the 13 games since. 2) Foul trouble. Three-fourths of Georgia's frontcourt rotation fouled out of that first game. It was the first time in four years that Georgia had three DQs in a single game.
Like most teams, Georgia plays significantly better on its home court. The Bulldogs average scoring 5.1 more points, shoot better from the field and rebound much better at home. Additionally, their assist/turnover ratio in home games (14.5/14.6) is much closer to even than in road games (12.2/17.1).
From individual stats that aren't listed to the right...Trey Thompkins is Georgia's leading scorer & rebounder in home games (19.7 ppg/9.3 rpg). Travis Leslie is Georgia's leading scorer & rebounder in road games (14.9 ppg/8.6 rpg).
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