Players from Georgia lead No. 2 Auburn against Bulldogs

ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs will get a close look at what they could have been Tuesday night when they visit Auburn.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

The Tigers (16-1, 5-0 SEC), who just moved up to No. 2 in the latest polls, feature eight players from the state of Georgia. Those players include leading scorer Jabari Smith, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Fayetteville; 7-1 center Walker Kessler, a sophomore from Newnan and son of a UGA letterman; and K.D. Johnson, a first-year transfer from Georgia.

Those three players in particular have been instrumental in getting Auburn off to its first 5-0 start in conference play since 1998-99. The teams meet at Auburn Arena for a 9 p.m. ET tip (ESPNU).

Georgia (5-12, 0-4), which in its fourth year under coach Tom Crean, remains winless in SEC play and has lost six in a row overall. But the Bulldogs always seem to play Auburn tough. In fact, with a 91-86 victory at Auburn Arena in early February last year, Georgia narrowed the Tigers’ lead in the series to 97-96.

ExploreA look back at Georgia's 91-86 win at Auburn in 2021

“It’s absolutely a trap game,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “It’s a trap game against our rival. It’s a trap game that we split the last two years with.”

Indeed, the teams are 2-2 in the past four meetings.

Pearl has long been a nemesis for the Bulldogs. Even before when he was at Tennessee, he always has targeted the state of Georgia for recruiting and often landed some of the best players. Smith was another one. He ranked as the state’s No. 1 prospect this past year.

It’s going to be odd for the Bulldogs when they see Johnson in an Auburn uniform. Johnson is one of three former Georgia players now playing for other SEC teams.

Former point guard Sahvir Wheeler was out with an injury when the Bulldogs played at Kentucky last week. It was Tye Fagan, who’s now at Ole Miss, who led Georgia with 17 points when it beat Auburn last season.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s playing very well for the Tigers. He’s third on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and has scored 50 points with nine steals in the past three games.

Johnson insists he’ll be no more hyped to play the Bulldogs than anybody else.

“It’s just going to be the same as another game,” Johnson told Auburn reporters. “You see me getting hyped at every game. I’m going to be the same KD. It’s nothing new.”

Smith and Kessler appear to be the bigger issue for the Bulldogs. Undersized as it is, Georgia will be severely overmatched in the paint. Smith is angling to become the top freshman in the country. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Kessler, the son of former Bulldog Chad Kessler, is scoring 10 points per game with 7.5 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game. Kessler transferred to Auburn this year after starting his career at North Carolina.

Georgia is trying to make its way with 10 newcomers on the roster. One of those new players is graduate transfer Aaron Cook. The point guard is set to become just the 18th D-I player in NCAA history to play in 150 games on Wednesday.

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