December 19, 2007

Playing in Paradise

With Georgia's football team scheduled to play Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, basketball coach Dennis Felton isn't sure what his team's reception will be when it begins play tonight at the Outrigger Classic tonight in Honolulu.

"I hadn't thought about that, but that might be interesting," Felton said."They've got some very loud and boisterous fans."

Felton admitted it's going to be a very interesting challenge for his Bulldogs, who look to continue building momentum before thngs start getting a whole lot tougher starting in January.

How will the young Bulldogs respond? Felton can't wait to find out.

It definitely won't be easy.

After closing out December with a home game against Presbyterian, the Bulldogs (6-1) come back after New Year's with a road game at Gonzaga (Jan. 5), a home contest against Georgia Tech (Jan. 9) before diving head-first into SEC play Jan. 12 at Mississippi State.

The hoop Dawgs' SEC home-opener is Jan. 16 against Alabama.

"We're looking forward to the challenge," Felton said before the Bulldogs left for Hawaii. "We're really excited about the opportunity, but we know we're going to have to focus all of our attention on getting better, and hopefully by then we will have tweaked a few things that will enable us to keep improving like I hope we will."

The Bulldogs open play in the Outrigger Classic at 12:30 a.m. Thursday against East Tennessee in the tournament, which also features Tulane, Saint John's, Saint Mary's, Hawaii, Louisiana-Lafayette and Ohio University.

So far, Felton hasn't had much reason to complain about his team's fast start.

Despite all the preseason distractions surrounding the dismissals of Takais Brown and Mike Mercer, the Bulldogs boarded their plane for Honolulu an impressive 6-1, which included an impressive 72-50 drubbing of Wake Forest Dec. 9 at Stegeman Coliseum.
Consider that freshmen are playing a large role in the Bulldogs' early success makes the start even more impressive.

Despite the recent injury to Jeremy Jacob (stress facture), freshmen like Jeremy Price, Zac Swansey and Chris Barnes are all playing significant minutes and contributing to Georgia's cause, along with Troy Brewer, who has shown he has the potential to join junior Billy Humphrey as one of the Bulldogs' premiere 3-point shooters.

However, when SEC plays tips off next month, it will be Humphrey, Terrance Woodbury and Sundiata Gaines that will be expected to provide most of the scoring punch for the Bulldogs.

Gaines leads Georgia in both scoring (14 points) and rebounding (5.9 per game), while Woodbury is coming off one of his finer overall games after a 15-point, five-assist effort against the Demon Deacons.
Recently, Gaines became just the second player in Georgia history to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists in his career, joining Shandon Anderson, an All-SEC swingman from 1992-1996 who played 10 seasons in the NBA.

But Felton knows his Bulldogs will need a lot more than nightly heroics from Gaines to be successful once they begin SEC play.
They'll also need to do a better job on the offensive glass.

Georgia entered its trip to Hawaii having been out-rebounded on the offensive side 50-28, although the Bulldogs held the total rebounding edge in two of those three contests.

"We're getting better. We out-rebounded Wake Forest by 11 (44-33), so we're moving in the right direction there and we're still hungry to get better," Felton said. "We want to be a dominant team on the glass and I think we can be. We've got a lot of good, young post players. We just have to get more aggressive."

Felton hopes having sophomore Albert Jackson will help the Bulldogs' cause.
Suspended for the first six games for violating Georgia's academic policy, the 6-10 Jackson returned against Wake Forest and scored four points with three rebounds in nine minutes of action.

"Albert played well. I know he was a little anxious being that it was his first game," Felton said. "He's very athletic, does a good job on the boards and is someone we're going to need."

January's scheduled also sees the Bulldogs travel to Tennessee (Jan. 26) and South Carolina (Jan. 30) before back-to-back games in early February against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

South Carolina, Tennessee and two-time defending national champion Florida all pay visits to Stegeman later that month.
"I've never been one to worry, or think about what's in front of us, we just deal with it when it comes," Felton said. "We're just going to focus on the things that we can do better, and try to take the same approach into each and every game that we play."

Granted, the schedule isn't easy. But like Felton says, when is playing I the SEC ever simple.

"It's difficult, but that's typical because we always play good people and we play outstanding teams night in and night out. We just look at it as a great opportunity and a chance to make a statement about where we're at as a program."

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