By Brad Locke and Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ORLEANS – Georgia has not been good from behind the 3-point line this season, but it sure was hot against Mississippi State on Feb. 11.
UGA shot 42.3 percent from behind the arc in a 70-68 overtime victory in Starkville. That was part of a three-game stretch in which the Bulldogs made 44.3 percent on 3-pointers.
For the season, they’re making just 31.5 percent, which ranks ninth in the SEC.
“Well, to me, every good player has a bad game,” freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “You’ve just got to come in focused and get ready to just make some shots, I guess.”
Caldwell-Pope made 6 of 12 from 3-point range against State, and he’s shooting 31.1 percent on the season. MSU coach Rick Stansbury knows Georgia’s numbers don’t look pretty, but he doesn’t put much stock in them, either.
“So we don’t look at Georgia at all as a team that’s not a very good shooting team,” Stansbury said. “I think they’re a really good-shooting basketball team. That was the difference in our game.”
Grant focused in
Alabama, which faces South Carolina today, has been through some ups and downs this season. It lost four in a row in January, then starting forward Tony Mitchell was suspended on Feb. 7 – it turned into a season-long suspension.
Then the other starting forward, JaMychal Green, was suspended for four games, returning Feb. 25 against MSU.
Alabama now finds itself at 20-10 and in good position for an NCAA tournament berth, and a big reason for that is coach Anthony Grant’s singular focus on the present. When asked about the turmoil from earlier in the season, Grant stuck to his one-day-at-a-time mantra.
“Our guys have shown an ability to move on and to worry about things they can control in terms of today,” Grant said. “That was two, three weeks ago and has no bearing on where we are as a team. We’ve moved on. We’re living in today.”
Ole Miss was down 11 points to Auburn with 15 minutes, 30 seconds left in Oxford in February. That’s when Murphy Holloway took over.
The Rebels went on a 14-0 run that included 12 straight points from Holloway, and Ole Miss pulled out a 61-54 win.
Auburn coach Tony Barbee wants to keep that from happening tonight.
“The biggest thing is when we are in our zone, that’s really where he got going in that second game when he had his own personal 12-0 run. Even in our zone we’re going to have to find him, put a body on him and keep him off the glass,” Barbee said.
Holloway finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds as the Rebels earned a regular-season split with the Tigers.
Barbee says he feels like Auburn has been successful by mixing up its defenses against Ole Miss. The Rebels shot 36.1 percent in a two-overtime loss at Auburn and 44.9 at home.
Auburn players say they can see the impact that Holloway has for Ole Miss.
“He’s an energy guy,” said senior forward Kenny Gabriel, who averages 2.3 blocked shots. “Once he gets going, their whole team gets going.”
Guard Frankie Sullivan said it’s important for Auburn not to give up on Holloway on any defensive trip.
“He’s got a knack for getting to the ball even if it’s not in his place. He can offensive rebound from the weak side,” he said.
LSU looking for run
It wasn’t that long ago that LSU was getting “bubble love” in NCAA tournament conversations.
Then came a three-game losing streak to end the regular season. It began with a blowout loss in Oxford, a 72-48 victory for Ole Miss, the first of three-straight wins to close the season for the Rebels.
LSU followed its Oxford visit with a 74-69 overtime loss at home to Tennessee and a 67-52 loss at Auburn, the Rebels’ opening-day opponent Thursday.
LSU finished the regular season 17-13, 7-9 in the league and finds itself with the advantage of playing the SEC tournament in its own backyard but with the disadvantage of being in the No. 8 seed and No. 9 seed game as the LSU-Arkansas winner faces No. 1 Kentucky.
“We know it’s all on us, and we know we can fix things,” said LSU center Justin Hamilton. “We lost the last three games, but we’re working on getting back to playing LSU basketball … with effort and intensity.”
Players said defensive lapses have been the primary reasons for the losing streak.
While Kentucky is the obvious favorite to win the SEC tournament, LSU coach Trent Johnson doesn’t see the 8-9 winner as having a lost cause.
“If any team is not ready to play at its best, certainly other teams can advance in this tournament,” he said. “Lots of things happen this time of year.”