January 8, 2013

Dawgs open SEC play

The SEC schedule isn't what it used to be.

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, instead of 16 league games, each team must now play 18, meaning for the next nine weeks, programs like Georgia will have to suit up twice every seven days before the SEC Tournament gets underway in March.

For the Bulldogs (6-7, 0-0) that journey begins Wednesday night in Gainesville (7 p.m. CSS) against No. 11 Florida (10-2, 0-0).

"I told the team this is nine straight weeks, two hard games a week," Bulldog coach Mark Fox said. "It will be a real grind, but still a great conference season to be a part of. Staying healthy and managing your energy level will be important."

Sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic doesn't believe that will be much of a problem.

"The freshmen will have to get used to it but the main thing is to play these games, and once each one is done just leave it behind," Djurisic said. "We just want to do as good a job as we can do every game."

Winners of four straight, Djurisic added the Bulldogs are playing with as much confidence as they have all year.

"It's a fresh start but we have built some really good momentum," he said. "We feel good about ourselves, we're experienced, and we've learned how to play with each other. I think we're ready for SEC now."

But beating Florida at the O'Connell Center will be anything but easy.

The Gators - who have won 15 of the last 18 meetings with the Bulldogs - return a veteran team that's not only expected to challenge Kentucky and Missouri for the top spot in the SEC, but a veteran team where four of the five starters are averaging in double-figures, led by seniors Erik Murphy (12.1 ppg) and Kenny Boynton (13.8 ppg).

"I feel like they have everything you need," Fox said. "With Murphy, (Patric) Young and Boynton have played in so many games but the thing that stands out is there is excellent balance offensively because they have so many people scoring with the ball. They're (Florida) as good as I've seen since I've been here."

Fox would for his Bulldogs to start demonstrating some of that same balance.

There have been some subtle signs that may be starting to occur.

Djurisic capped the last two games in Georgia's recent homestand by scoring a team-high and career-best 21 points in a victory over Florida A&M, becoming the first Bulldog other than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to lead Georgia in scoring. He followed up that outing with a 17-point effort against George Washington, matching Caldwell-Pope for top honors.

"We've got more people starting to chip in," Caldwell-Pope said. "It makes it easier on me. It makes it easier on us when that happens."

Still, Caldwell-Pope remains the focal point of all that Georgia does. He's the only Bulldog to have started all 13 games and to be averaging over 30 minutes per game (33.5, 4th in SEC). He has taken 27 percent of the team's 654 field-goal attempts, and 41 percent of its 3-point attempts. The Greenville, Ga., native also leads Georgia in rebounding (7.2, 10th in SEC, only guard in SEC's top 10) and steals (30, 4th in SEC, 26th in NCAA).

NOTE: Fox said that junior forward Marcus Thornton had the stitches removed from his knee after undergoing arthroscopic surgery two weeks ago. Fox said there is no timetable for his return.