Hoop Dawgs Turn to Tennessee

ATHENS - The hurdles Dennis Felton faces in rebuilding Georgia's basketball program are too numerous to count, but the Bulldogs made progress by clearing two this week.

The more noteworthy, but less important to Dennis Felton, was the arrival of a letter of inquiry from the NCAA. The allegations in the letter came as no surprise to officials at Georgia and have eased concern that the team could face severe sanctions in the future. However, Felton has devoted little attention to that as he prepares his team for Southeastern

Conference play, which Georgia (8-3) begins Wednesday with a 7:30 p.m. game against Tennessee (8-1) in Knoxville.

"The NCAA investigation is not impacting this team," Felton said.

His main concern is what's happening on the floor, and that's where the second hurdle was cleared, in an 83-80 double-overtime victory over No. 3 Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Bulldogs played with an energy and consistency they had lacked in the first 10 games of the season.

"We certainly played well enough to be able to compete with anybody. It was our best performance from the standpoint of being consistent," Felton said. "Consistency within a game was our big challenge. It goes further than that, though. It's about putting it together from game to game, too."

They get their chance today against the Volunteers, who have won five straight since their only loss of the season, a 77-62 decision at Nebraska. Tennessee is led by Memphis transfer Scooter McFadgon, who is fifth in the SEC in scoring (18.4 ppg), and point guard C.J. Watson, who leads the league in assists (6.4). Forward Brandon Crump has scored 20 points or more in four of the last six games.

"I'm just really excited about starting conference play, especially in a conference like the SEC," said Felton, who will be coaching in his first SEC game since coming to Georgia from Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt Conference.

How prepared the Bulldogs are for the beginning of conference play is up for debate. The win over Tech took a lot out of Georgia, whose five starters each played 37 minutes or more. Four Bulldogs played 43 or more minutes, forcing them to scale back their practices leading up to today's game. In the last three days, Felton practiced one-quarter of the time he normally would, he said.

"We just can't do as much as most teams in terms of putting the time and effort in in practice," he said. "No doubt it affects our preparation. It's an uphill struggle for us to get better every day."

The scaled-back practices will be a fact of life for the Bulldogs all because of their lack of depth. Against the Yellow Jackets, Georgia's starters scored 80 of its 83 points and all the starters average more than 27 minutes per game, a number that is certain to go up now that the conference season has arrived.

Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson isn't focusing on that, though. Instead, he sees four senior starters -- Rashad Wright, Damien Wilkins, Chris Daniels and Jonas Hayes -- who each average more than 10 points per game.

"The four seniors they have are very talented," Peterson said. "It was a great win against Georgia Tech, and I'm sure they're coming to us with a lot of confidence."

Or at least a little more than they had one week ago.

Georgia vs. Tennessee
Wednesday, January 7th. 7:30 p.m./Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.

: No TV
Records: Georgia 8-3, Tennessee 8-1
Coaches: Georgia -- Dennis Felton (8-3, first season); Tennessee -- Buzz Peterson (40-29, third season)
Tennessee starters: G C.J. Watson, 6-2, So. (11.9 ppg, 6.4 apg); G John Winchester, 6-4, So. (6.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G Scooter McFadgon, 6-5, Jr.
(18.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Jemere Hendrix, 6-8, So. (8.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg); F Brandon Crump, 6-10, Jr. (16.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg).

Georgia starters: G Rashad Wright, 6-3, Sr. (14.6 ppg, 3.5 apg); G Levi Stukes, 6-1, Fr. (8.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Damien Wilkins, 6-7, Sr. (13.5
ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Chris Daniels, 6-7, Sr. (10.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg); F Jonas Hayes, 6-7, Sr. (14.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

Outlook: Senior forward Jonas Hayes began the season in Coach Dennis Felton's doghouse. He worked his way out early in the season, and,
recently, he has been working toward being the Bulldogs' most consistent scorer. For the first time in his career, he has scored in double digits
in four straight games. "It's more about what his teammates are doing," Felton said. "It's a matter of us playing as a team to get him the
opportunities." Hayes is coming off a career-high 25 in an upset victory over No. 3 Georgia Tech, and he was named the SEC's player of the week Monday. He leads the team in scoring (14.8) and field goal percentage (57.5 percent). He is second on the team in rebounding (6.3).

Next up: Georgia vs. South Carolina, Athens, 5 p.m., Saturday, FOXSS

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