ATHENS — Don’t bother bringing up that loss to Georgia Tech last year to Georgia’s first-year coach, Mike White.
White came to Georgia from Florida, so he knows all about rivalries. But that’s not what Tuesday night’s game versus the Yellow Jackets is about for him.
Having already exceeded the Bulldogs’ win total for all of last season with seven, White is focused not just on winning games but on his team’s continued improvement.
To be clear, Georgia (7-2) will have to play better than it has all season to have a chance against Tech (5-3).
“I’m big with this – take it or leave it, and to each his own – I want the Florida A&M game to be as big as any game we’ve played all year,” said White, who recorded his 250th career victory in Georgia’s last game. “I want (Monday’s) practice to be as big as an SEC road game, an SEC home game. I know this is a rivalry game, and it’s huge for our fans; I get that. I want it to be huge for our guys, and it’s going to be huge; it’s a great opportunity. But so is the next one and so is the next one. For our fans, for Dawg Nation, you’d like us to play well, of course, but we’ve got to play well every day. We’ve got to get better.”
For the Bulldogs, it will be only their second true road game this season on their opponents’ home court. The last time Georgia did that was against another ACC team, Wake Forest, and it lost 81-71.
This time, they’re at Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, where the Jackets lead the schools’ most-played series 62-27. The Bulldogs won their past two meetings there, however, 70-59 in December 2018 and 60-43 in the 2016-17 season.
For White, again, just meaningless trivia.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for their program,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll have a good year, and they’re a good team. I’m sure they’ll be prepared, and it’ll be a good game.”
For Georgia to have success, it will have to do a better job of controlling Rodney Howard than it did in the last meeting. The 6-foot-11, 256-pound senior center – who started his career with the Bulldogs – scored eight points and added seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in the Jackets’ 88-78 win at Stegeman Coliseum last season. That victory snapped Georgia’s second-longest win streak in the series at five. The Jackets lead the 137-year-old rivalry 196-91.
The Bulldogs have been getting some fairly consistent inside play from their two bigs, senior Braelen Bridges and junior Frank Anselem. They alternate in a rotation that features Bridges as the offensive force and Anselem as the primary defender. Between them, they’re averaging 9.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
But White also likes to switch it up on opponents and go with a smaller lineup that features 6-7 swingmen KyeRon Lindsay and Jusaun Holt rotating in and out with a quarter of guards led by Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo.
Oquendo, last season’s leading scorer and No. 2 to Roberts on the team with 13.7 points per game, sat out the past two games to rest a sore knee. Roberts, Anselem and M.A. Moncrieffe also have missed time over the past week with either illnesses or injuries. The Bulldogs have had a bout of flu run through the team.
“We’ve had a lot of stuff here with the roster, bumps and bruises and illnesses lately,” White said. “I don’t know if we have anyone new or not. Couple more sniffles yesterday; we’ll see what that leads to. Just don’t know – it’s crazy.”
Tech got its fifth win with an 81-63 victory over Northeastern on Friday. Two of the Jackets’ losses were to teams that earned top-10 wins last week – Utah (def. No. 5 Arizona 81-66 on Thursday) and Marquette (def. No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Nov. 29).
Miles Kelly leads a trio of Jackets scoring at a double-digit pace at 13.0 ppg, while Dallan “Deebo” Coleman adds 10.8 ppg and Deivon Smith chips in 10.1 ppg. Ja’von Franklin is contributing 8.8 ppg and a team-high 7.0 rpg.
Last Friday, Mardrez McBride’s 15-point, nine-rebound effort paced Georgia in a 68-46 victory over Florida A&M. McBride, a fifth-year senior, connected on 3 of 4 3-pointers and collected a career-high rebound count. Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Bridges added 14 and 10 points, respectively.
While White mainly wants continued improvement and progress, that home loss to Tech still stings for Georgia’s four returning lettermen.
“It’s a tough rivalry game, and we want to win,” Bridges said. “They came here last year and beat us. So, going there and beating them would be a big thing. Obviously, we have a lot of guys from Georgia on our team, so they want to go out there and represent well.”
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