Reeling Georgia Bulldogs hope to get well on road at Ole Miss

Georgia basketball player K.D. Johnson (0) during a game against Auburn at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, January 13, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Georgia basketball player K.D. Johnson (0) during a game against Auburn at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, January 13, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

ATHENS – Better late than never. The Georgia Bulldogs sincerely hope they can cite that tired old phrase eventually this season.

The Bulldogs (7-4, 0-4 SEC) are extremely slow to get going in coach Tom Crean’s third SEC season. They have yet to win a conference game. Meanwhile, the losses seem to be getting progressively worse. The latest, a 95-77 defeat at home to previously winless Auburn on Wednesday, might’ve been the most alarming. On defense, at least, Georgia was not competitive.

Then again, that was the first game of the season for freshman guard K.D. Johnson. The 6-foot-1 guard showed why he was missed while awaiting academic certification from the NCAA. The highest-ranked recruit in Georgia’s 2020 class, Johnson scored 21 points in 29 minutes and added seven rebounds, four steals and four blocked shots against the Tigers.

“We missed him for 10 games,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said after the Auburn loss. “He brings a different level of energy and competitiveness to the game.”

That was evident. Johnson’s 21-point debut was the third-most by a UGA freshman, trailing only Dominique Wilkins (26) and Anthony Edwards (24). And he was clearly getting better as the game went along.

But offense where the Bulldogs need to improve. As they head to Oxford, Miss., for Saturday’s noon game against Ole Miss (6-4, 1-2), the Bulldogs are averaging 79.9 points per game. But Arkansas and Auburn shot a combined 57 percent from the field while scoring 99 and 95 points, respectively.

Georgia came into the season knowing it was going to be under-sized up front. But it’s actually in the backcourt where the Bulldogs have been most victimized. Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper went off for 28 points Wednesday night while Arkansas guards Moses Moody (25), Davonte Davis (20) and Jalen Tate (15) combined for 60 in the previous game.

Some of it is because of the liability on defense that is 5-10 point guard Sahvir Wheeler. But mostly, Crean said, it’s effort and attitude.

“I think it is just a combination of not bearing down and belief,” Crean said. “What I haven’t liked the last couple of games is we lose a little belief that we can win the game. A 12-point deficit, a 13-point deficit, a 15-point deficit, that is nothing in college basketball, just absolutely nothing. We have got to be able to work through that better.

“So, I don’t know. I have got to look at who I am playing, I have to look at combinations, and I am going to have to make some tough choices.”

At the least, expect Johnson to be inserted into the starting lineup. He didn’t start in his first outing, instead entering the game at the 16:37 mark with the Bulldogs already trailing by six.

Georgia also started sophomore forward Tyron McMillan against Auburn. The Bulldogs’ tallest player at 6-9, he played only 10 minutes and finished with two points and no rebounds.

Georgia will be outsized again against the Rebels. They feature a pair of forwards from Georgia in 6-7 K.J. Buffen of Gainesville High School and 6-8 Romello White of Wheeler High, who average over 11 points each. Six-foot-2 guard Dovantae Shuler leads all Rebels scorers, at 12.6 per game. Ole Miss is coming off a 72-63 loss to Florida in which the Gators finished the game on a 14-0 run.

The Bulldogs might just ignore the size disadvantage and go with a four-guard lineup and 6-8 sophomore Toumani Camara against the Rebels. Johnson’s presence can help in that regard.

“What he allows you to do is not have Sahvir almost always guarding the other team’s point guard,” Georgia assistant coach Steve McClain said Friday. “What we’ve been asking Sahvir to do is guard their point guard and be our point guard. You can now take some of that pressure off him

Whatever the remedy, Georgia insists it is not panicking.

“These are winnable games,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think confidence is an issue. I know we want to get it fixed. I know we will get it fixed.”

Said Johnson: “We’re on to the next game. We’ll go into practice and see what we did wrong and fix the mistakes we had. Obviously, we had a lot. We’re just going to practice and get better.”

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