Georgia/Alabama Hoop Dawg Preview

ATHENS - Under first-year coach Dennis Felton, Georgia's basketball team is undergoing a radical transformation.

Under Jim Harrick, the Bulldogs won with a stylish offense. Dennis Felton wants a team that wins with gutty defense. The transition is going slowly.

Georgia (9-5 overall, 1-2 SEC) ranks last in the league in scoring defense (70.5 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (44.9 percent) entering Wednesday's 7 p.m. game against Alabama (10-4, 2-1) at Stegeman Coliseum.

"(The Bulldogs) have kind of been up and down, so they're still getting adjusted to one another, but everybody knows how capable they are," Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried.

Not coincidentally, the bright spots on the Bulldogs' schedule have followed the bright spots in the transition. Georgia allowed then-No. 3 Georgia Tech just 68 points in regulation in an 83-80 double overtime win and held then-No. 5 Kentucky to 57 points and 36.5 percent shooting in Saturday's shocking 65-57 victory.

Following the win over the Yellow Jackets, Georgia fell flat on its face and was whipped 89-65 by Tennessee four days later. This time, the Bulldogs say they plan to capitalize on their momentum.

"We didn't put (the Tech win) behind us quickly enough," said point guard Rashad Wright, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday. "We didn't stay focused."

Maintaining their new ideals from game-to-game is all part of the development process, Felton said.

"It's so new to every one of them," he said. "We have to continue to be persistent as a coaching staff to get our players to understand what consistency means. We've got to be a down-and-dirty, hard-nosed, defense-oriented team for us to have a chance to beat anybody."

As bad as the Bulldogs' defensive numbers are, they are better than they were last year. Harrick's final team finished last in the league by giving up 73.2 points per game. It also won 19 regular season games because it finished first in the SEC in scoring with 79.2 points per game.

This year's team, minus Harrick's version of the John Wooden offense and scorers Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams, is 10th in the league in scoring at 71.9 points per game.

"This team the last two years had success, but they had success by entirely different means. They outscored people. They outskilled people," Felton said. Switching to a defense-oriented approach "is what's going to allow us to have a championship program year in and year out, but it's especially critical this year because we don't have that big scorer."

Saturday's win over Kentucky is the first sign that the Bulldogs are beginning to turn the corner, senior Jonas Hayes said.

"You're going to have some growing pains," he said, "but I think we're over that stage."

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