Georgia Bulldogs hope to measure up against No. 1 Alabama

ATHENS — Georgia no longer will be playing an undefeated SEC team when it faces Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. But Tennessee did the Bulldogs no favors by knocking off the nation’s No. 1 team Wednesday in Knoxville.

Despite losing for the first time in 2023, the Crimson Tide (22-4, 12-1 SEC) still are considered a favorite to win it all this season and will be out to prove it when Georgia visits Coleman Coliseum at 6 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network).

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The Bulldogs (16-10, 6-7) are coming off back-to-back wins themselves. But they struggled Tuesday night against LSU – the SEC’s last-place team – and needed a basket by Justin Hill with 4.2 seconds remaining to pull out a 65-63 win at Stegeman Coliseum.

The Alabama contest is the first of a challenging five-game set that Georgia has remaining in the regular season. The Bulldogs essentially have that much time to prove themselves worthy of postseason consideration.

There may be no greater barometer than what Georgia will face in Alabama, which is considered one of the SEC’s better collections of talent in years.

“From what I’ve seen to this point, my goodness, they are really, really good,” first-year Georgia coach Mike White said. “I don’t know how you score on them. I don’t know how you stop them. I don’t know how you block them out. I don’t know how (protect) the basketball against their length and speed and athleticism. They’ve got depth. They shoot the heck out of it. They space you. Their bigs rim-run. They shoot it. They can drive it, can pass it. They’re high, high level.”

They are, but the No. 10-ranked Volunteers found a way to humanize the Tide on the way to a 68-59 win. Tennessee did it with defense, forcing Bama into a season-high 19 turnovers that included 11 steals and limiting it to under 40% shooting both from the floor (35.4) and behind the arc (37.5).

Defense is an area in which Georgia has made exponential improvement from a season ago, when it won only six games overall and one in SEC play. In their first season under White, the Bulldogs’ national rankings in scoring defense (155th), field-goal percentage defense (99th) and 3-point defense (24th) have improved a combined 658 spots. That said, Alabama remains a top-20 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency (Nos. 15 and 5, respectively) and rates as the nation’s team No. 2 team in tempo.

Also, not forgotten by the Tide is that the Bulldogs’ lone SEC victory last season came against them, 82-76 in Athens.

“We’ve got that in the back of our heads,” guard Jahvon Quinerly told reporters in Tuscaloosa on Friday. Accordingly, there will be plenty of motivation on the Bama bench for Saturday’s contest, which is expected to feature another sellout crowd of over 13,000.

The Bulldogs promise to be intently engaged as well. They must be to play reasonably competitively. Georgia hasn’t been in its past three forays onto the SEC road. On the home courts of No. 4 Tennessee, No. 23 Auburn and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs lost by a total of 80 points, or an average of 26.7 per contest.

“We know what it is,” junior forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim said of taking on the Tide. “We are going to be ready and play how we should play, really hard with a lot of energy.”

Alabama is led by 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward Brandon Miller, whose averages of 18.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game make him a favorite for conference player of the year. Guard Mark Sears comes in averaging 13.5 points.

Georgia’s leading scorers, guards Terry Roberts (14.3 ppg) and Kario Oquendo (12.7) are coming off subpar games. The Bulldogs will need a strong game from 6-11 center Braelen Bridges (8.2, 4.4) and continue to rely on a bench that has outscored its opponents’ reserves in 19 of 26 contests.

“It’ll be a really good chance for us, an opportunity to play against the best,” White said. “It’ll be a really good test for us and see where we stack up.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez