Dawgs Look to Bench at Florida

ATHENS – Something happened in Tuesday's Georgia men's basketball team practice that appeared to warm head coach Mark Fox's heart:

The second team got the better of the starters.

That might have caused other coaches to worry about the intensity of their starters. Not Fox, who after seeing his starters carry the load for 26 games is ready for his bench to increase its impact as the Bulldogs make a run for the NCAA tournament.

Georgia's five starters are combining to average 60.3 points a game. The reserves are averaging 9.6 entering tonight's game at Florida, which holds first place in the SEC East.

"I think they're getting better," Fox said of his reserves. "They have provided us some minutes, some defense, some rebounding. I think that scoring would be the next step for us."

Georgia has blown a number of recent second-half leads, including last Saturday at Tennessee. The Bulldogs won anyway, and at 18-8 overall and 7-5 in the SEC are in pretty decent shape for an NCAA tournament berth. (Fox said Wednesday that he would expect to be in if the tournament started today.)

The players have insisted that a lack of depth isn't the reason it has blown the late leads. And it's true that Georgia's starters are playing less minutes than they did last year, when Fox's rotation was small and relied heavily on stars Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.

But this season, is it possible that the Bulldogs are still relying too much on the starters, this time to score?

"The thing about our starting group is we've got so many guys that can score I don't think one guy has to carry the load and wears down because of that," Fox said. "Jeremy (Price) had the big scoring load up in Knoxville and Trey didn't have to carry all that. So that helps him. I think that because we have some balance in scoring … that that probably alleviates that more than anything."

The reserves themselves seem satisfied with their production so far. Senior forward Chris Barnes said the bench's goal is a bit more modest than instant offense.

"They look to be productive in defense and rebounding," Barnes said. "Because you know that's what it really takes to win. And that's what our main focus is."

What little offense that has come from the bench has usually been from guard Sherrard Brantley. The 3-point specialist has a green light to shoot, and has gone 13-for-32 from beyond the arc in SEC play.

"It takes some pressure off the starters," Brantley said of his made 3s. "It gives us a little extra lift. It kind of motivates others to even play harder when they come in the game, because everyone wants to have the same effect on the team."

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