Harrick saw this year's success in last year's

While no one knew Georgia would be 14-2 and ranked 20th in the nation at this point of the season, Coach Jim Harrick knew last year that this could be a good team.

ATHENS, Ga. — While no one knew Georgia would be 14-2 and ranked 20th in the nation at this point of the season, Coach Jim Harrick knew last year that this could be a good team. All Harrick had to do was watch his backups routinely beat his starters in practice.

"It was probably 90 percent of the time that they won,'' Harrick said Tuesday as his Bulldogs worked out for tonight's home game against Alabama.

Added Harrick: "I knew why, because of Jarvis and Jonas Hayes.''

The Hayes twins had to sit out last season after transferring from Western Carolina. Jarvis is averaging 16.9 points as a starting small forward and Jonas has been solid as the top backup power forward.

Two more members of last season's No. 2 team were Chris Daniels and Steve Thomas, who as sophomores have emerged as starters. Daniels, averaging 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds, is one of the most improved players in the Southeastern Conference. Thomas has been less consistent as a scorer but equally crucial on defense and as a rebounder. Adrian Jones, a senior, usually worked at point guard for the backups in scrimmages last year.

"Last year, playing against those guys, they were running out a lot and just playing better (than the starters),'' said point guard Rashad Wright, who with shooting guard Ezra Williams are the only returning starters this season.

"This year, they are just bringing it onto the team, running a lot and making us a better team.''

This year's No. 2 team is still strong, led by transfer Damien Wilkens of North Carolina State, but the big story has been the emergence of the first-teamers. Picked to finish at or near the bottom of the SEC's Eastern Division, Georgia (3-0 in the SEC) instead has kept pace with No. 2 Florida through the first two weeks of the conference schedule.

After big wins over No. 8 Kentucky and Tennessee last week, Georgia plays host to No. 16 Alabama (14-3 overall, 2-1 in the SEC) in the 8 p.m. game to be televised by the Jefferson-Pilot network, including Fox Sports Net South in some locations.

"I think Georgia is playing as good as anybody in the conference,'' said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, who gives credit to Harrick for his start in coaching.

In 1989, Harrick — then the UCLA coach — picked Gottfried's name out of a pool of 450 candidates for a graduate assistant position. Gottfried remained with Harrick for seven years.

"Mark and his family are like family to me,'' Harrick said. "Mark is a very, very bright young guy. ... We had seven really good years together, and I'm proud of the fact he runs everything we run.''

Said Gottfried, now in his fourth season at Alabama: "I've got a lot of respect for him and care a lot about him. He knows I want him to do well. Hopefully coaches are always thankful for people who meant a lot in their lives. He meant a lot to mine.''

The records, similar style of play and similar strengths and weaknesses point to this being a close game. Neither team boasts significant depth on its front line, but both teams have good balance with scoring inside and outside.

For Georgia, a key will be to contain Alabama's 6-foot-8, 260-pound center, Erwin Dudley, without having Thomas and Daniels land in early foul trouble. For Alabama, a key will be the perimeter defense on Williams and Jarvis Hayes. When both are hitting 3-pointers, as was the case in last week's 88-84 win at Kentucky, Georgia will be difficult to beat. Hayes scored 30 points in the win and Williams added 20 points.

"I think Jarvis Hayes is the best new player in the league, period,'' Gottfried said. "He has earned our respect. When they went up to Kentucky and played as well as they did, he put an exclamation point on that.''

If Gottfried had asked his old boss, Harrick could have told him all about Hayes a year ago.

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