GAME NOTES: The Tennessee Volunteers hope to continue their charge in the SEC standings on Saturday afternoon, as they head to Stegeman Coliseum in Athens for a date with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Tennessee is the SEC's hottest team, as it is riding a season-long, six-game win streak, and it solidified its standing as a legitimate contender on Tuesday night when it defeated No. 8 Florida, 64-58. The Vols are now 17-10 overall, and although they appear unlikely to make up enough ground to win the SEC title outright, at 9-6, they are in position to make a run at one of the top four seeds in the upcoming conference tournament to earn a first-round bye.
While Tennessee is heading in a positive direction in the standings, Georgia is trending downward with losses in four of its last five games, which comes on the heels of a season-long, five-game win streak. The Bulldogs appeared in control on Wednesday night against Vanderbilt but suffered a second-half collapse to lose, 63-62, to fall to 13-15 overall and 7-8 in conference play.
With regard to the all-time series between these two teams, Tennessee holds a comfortable 93-54 advantage, although the Bulldogs took down the Vols in Knoxville on Feb. 6, 68-62.
Although Tennessee and Florida shot an identical 24-of-57 (.421) from the floor in Tuesday night's showdown, the Vols ultimately got the best of the Gators by winning the rebounding battle (41-31) and by outscoring them at the foul line, 11-6. Jordan McRae was the outstanding the triumph. Not only did he net a game-high 27 points, but he also tallied seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Jarnell Stokes scored just eight points but made up for it by hauling in 14 rebounds. The Vols are typically a modest offensive team, scoring 66 ppg, but they have netted 82 points or more in three of the last four games, and if they can score at that kind of pace they are very difficult to beat considering their strong defensive effort (62.8 ppg). McRae leads the way with 15.3 ppg, and he has been especially hot of late with 28.0 ppg over the last three outings. Stokes is one of the SEC's best big men with 12.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 1.3 bpg, and despite Trae Golden's lackluster field goal percentage (.383), he still runs an effective point with 12.1 ppg and 4.0 apg.
Georgia led by 12 points at the half its last time out only to find itself losing by six with three minutes to play. The squad went on a run to regain the advantage on a pair of Charles Mann free throws in the final minute, but it fell victim to a last-second field goal as it dropped a heart-breaker. The Bulldogs outshot Vanderbilt from the field, 40.8 percent to 37.3 percent, but it only forced four turnovers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was impressive with 20 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, but he was only 5-of-16 from the field and no one else scored in double figures on the night. UGA has established a similar theme this season. Caldwell-Pope is in the midst of an All-SEC-type campaign with 17.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 2.1 spg, but no one else is even close to his production, with Nemanja Djurisic the next-best option at 7.9 ppg. As a team, Georgia stays competitive thanks to its rock-solid defense, which holds opponents to only 61.1 ppg, but it has failed to take that next step due to its 13th-ranked scoring offense (59.8 ppg).
Although Tennessee's 3-6 road record may not seem impressive, all three of those victories have come in succession during its current win streak, and its confidence is surely riding high following the upset of Florida. Georgia always plays tough at home, and its defensive approach should curb UT's hot shooting a little, but the Vols will find a way to pull this one out nonetheless.
Athens, GA (Sports Network) - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope racked up 25 points, nine rebounds and four steals, as the Georgia Bulldogs fended off the Tennessee Volunteers, 78-68, in Southeastern Conference play at Stegeman Coliseum.
Charles Mann tied a career-high with 18 points to go along with eight assists for the Bulldogs (14-15, 8-8 SEC), who entered the day with losses in four of their previous five contests.
The Volunteers (17-11, 9-7) saw their season-long, six-game win streak come to a halt despite a 35-point outburst from Jordan McRae, who buried 8-of-11 3- pointers. His 35 points were the most by a Vols player in seven years. However, Kenny Hall was the only other double-digit scorer for UT, finishing with 10 points in 16 minutes off the bench.
Tennessee trailed by only a 25-22 halftime margin after shooting just 8-of-27 from the floor in the opening period. UGA went on an early 15-4 run, but the Vols scored the final eight points of the half.
The back-and-forth battle continued until the Bulldogs put together a 9-2 spurt to go up, 62-50, with just under three minutes to play in regulation. The Bulldogs used a 20-of-24 effort at the foul line over the final 20 minutes to secure the victory.
With the victory, UGA swept the season series with Tennessee for the first time since 2001.