ATHENS — Georgia basketball takes the floor in Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday looking to advance another step in Year Three under Coach Tom Crean.
The Bulldogs (9-4, 2-4 SEC) play host to Florida (7-4, 4-3) at 2 p.m. (TV: ESPN2) aiming to win a third-straight SEC game for what would be the first time in four seasons.
“It took us a long time, compared to the other teams, to find ourselves,” said UGA’s center Toumani Camara, who leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per game and has the third-highest scoring average at 13.3.
“Every game we’ve learned about each other as a team, (and) I think we’ve come a long way on the court and outside,” Camara said. “Things are going in our favor, we just need to keep going and having a positive mindset.”
Georgia will be looking to steal a win against the Gators, who are a 4-point favorite coming off a 75-49 win over No. 6-ranked Tennessee last Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs rank No. 18 in the nation in steals with 9 per game with George Mason graduate transfer Justin Kier leading the SEC in the steal category (2.3 per game), and Sahvir Wheeler (No. 6) and Toumani Camara (No. 7) also in the league’s Top 10.
“I’ve always been pretty good at reading passes, with the scouts and film study,” said Kier, who had five steals to help UGA beat Kentucky 63-62 on Wednesday night. “So with me watching film, I’ll see the play before it happens. I see what play they’re running and know what’s going on,
“I don’t always like to jump the gap because if I do miss the pass, that puts my team at a disadvantage. I do try to pick the ones I’m going to get. It’s just studying the game and other teams.”
Conversely, Crean said one of the biggest keys in the game will be Georgia’s ability to take care of the basketball against a very strong Gators’ defense.
“They’re so good with their pressure, we have to take care of the ball,” said Crean, whose team has averaged more than 17 turnovers per game. “We cannot be giving them live-ball turnovers. They really, really want to force tempo. They play as many defenses as anybody in the league. Whether it’s a 3-2 zone, a 2-3 zone, a 1-3-1 zone, full-court man-to-man run and jump, zone pressure, they can switch, they just do a lot of stuff. It’s to confuse you and to get you out of character.
“We have to do a good job of controlling the pace of the game, recognizing what’s there, making simple plays and they’re just too athletic to give live-ball turnovers. That’s paramount.”
The Gators are coached by Mike White, the brother of new $1.8-million-dollar Tennessee athletics director Danny White.
Florida suffered an 18-point home loss to Kentucky earlier this season, leading to questions about Mike White’s job security.
White, in his fifth year coaching the Gators, played his college basketball at Ole Miss (1995-1999). He has led Florida into the past three NCAA tournaments, but the team failed to advance past the Round of 32 in its last two NCAA tourney outings.
Georgia in Ken Pomery rankings
• The Bulldogs rank 90th of the 357 teams, and 12th among the SEC in the KenPom analytics, while Florida is 25th and third in the SEC behind Alabama (11th) and Tennessee (12th).
• Georgia’s top wins came over Ole Miss (54th), Kentucky (59th) and Cincinnati (81st); the worst loss was to Mississippi State (79th).
GeorgiaDogs.com Did You Know
“Georgia defeated Kentucky despite shooting a season-low 38.8 percent from the floor and matching the Bulldogs fewest points on the season, 63. Georgia also scored 63 points in a win over Montana on Dec. 8.”