January 16, 2008

In the same boat

Georgia coach Dennis Felton and Mike Gottfried of Alabama can feel each other's pain.

Felton, of course, lost two of his key players in Takais Brown and Mike Mercer before the season even started. Gottfried and the Crimson Tide have been dealing with a loss of their own after it was learned before the season that senior standout guard Ronald Steele would have to sit out the year with a knee injury.

It's been a loss that's been difficult for the Crimson Tide to overcome.

"Obviously, that was a significant loss," Gottfried said. "We've needed him, but we are who we are and I'm proud of my team. Sure, it affects your chances when a player the caliber of Ron Steele is not playing, but our kids are playing hard and doing the best they can."

Missing players aren't all Georgia and Alabama have in common.

Both the Bulldogs (9-5, 0-1) and the Crimson Tide (11-6, 0-2) will be looking for their first conference win when the two teams square off tonight at 7:30 in Stegeman Coliseum.

Despite the loss of Steele, Felton likes what he sees in the Crimson Tide.

"Alabama is another highly athletic team that can score very well, so I believe we're going to have our work cut out for us," Felton said. "They've got some special athletes, and it's going to be our job to not let them get into the kind of offensive flow that they normally want."

Steele certainly made his presence felt in last year's 78-76 victory over the Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa.

In that game, Steele scored twice in the final minute of play - a tying 3-pointer with 52 seconds left and the game-winner at the horn - to complete a stunning comeback by Alabama, which had trailed by as many as 18 points.

Steele underwent arthroscopic surgery in the 2007 offseason to repair tendonitis in both his knees. He was expected to be 100 percent when the 2007-08 regular season came around. It was announced on September 17, however, that Steele would take a medical redshirt his senior season instead.

But as indicated by Felton, Alabama still isn't lacking for talent.

The Crimson Tide features two players who lead the SEC in scoring and rebounding.

Junior power forward Richard Hendrix is averaging a double-double in points and rebounds at 19.2 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. He leads the SEC in rebounding in all games and in league play where he averages 13.5 rebounds. He leads the SEC in double doubles with nine so far this season, including his 17 points and 11 rebounds at Arkansas on Sunday. Junior guard Alonzo Gee leads the SEC in scoring in league play with his 23.5 points per SEC game average, highlighted by 32 points against Florida in Alabama's opener and 15 at Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Georgia continues to be led by junior guard Billy Humphrey who is averaging 13.5 points per game and senior guard Sundiata Gaines, who is averaging 13 points and 5.9 rebounds per contests. Gaines also needs just three assists in tonight's contest to give him 400 for his career.

"We've got another big challenge," said Gottfried whose Alabama team is averaging 78.2 points after 17 games. "Going on the road in this league is always difficult. I looked back and watched their Georgia Tech game a few days back. They looked really good. They looked really good playing at times with Mississippi State, and before that they went out to Gonzaga. I liked how they played out there.
"I think Gaines for them has been one of the best guards in this league. I think he's so physical and so strong that he gives you all kinds of match-up problems. Humphrey is playing great. He's shooting the ball really well. Georgia plays physical. They're aggressive. They get after you. It's a physical type game every time you play them, so we've got to get ready for that as well."

NOTES: Georgia arrives at this game with a 9-5 overall record, 0-1 in SEC play, having lost 60-49 at Mississippi State last Saturday. The visiting Bulldogs had nearly one-fourth of their 65 shots blocked and, consequently, struggled to their lowest field-goal percentage (24.6) of the 5-season Felton era at Georgia. … Perhaps the most unexpected development in the Georgia camp, however, is the emergence of walk-on guard Corey Butler as a key player. The 6-3 junior, who joined the program in January of 2006, had never played more than 19 minutes in a college game until this season. He's done so in each of the past three games, including a career-best 31 minutes (with 9 pts.) last Saturday against Miss. State. … Georgia returns to action Saturday with another home game against Arkansas.

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