Dawgs have to make due on the road

ATHENS – It was all there in front of Georgia. The Bulldogs went into Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night facing a struggling team without its best player.

Georgia had won five of its last six games and another victory would mean a 6-2 record at the midpoint of the SEC season, sole possession of second place in the East, a spot firmly on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and maybe even a national ranking.

With all that going for them, the Bulldogs played like, well, dogs. The result? Tennessee 82, Georgia 71.

That's life on the road in the SEC, Bulldogs head coach Dennis Felton says.

"The reason I think it's so difficult to win on the road is there are so many really, really strong teams in the league," Felton said. "Most leagues have some weaker teams that you can get them on the road, and there's your road win, but the SEC doesn't have any weak teams. And of course we've got some great venues with passionate fans around the league that bring a lot of emotion to the building."

Georgia (13-7, 5-3 SEC) goes back on the road today for a 7 p.m. game against No. 24 Vanderbilt (15-7, 5-3). The Bulldogs have won just once in four tries on the road against SEC opponents this year, but they don't have to feel bad about that number.

Midway through the SEC schedule, conference teams are 12-32 in league road games, and a quarter of those victories belong to Florida. Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only other teams with more than one road win. LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Ole Miss are 0-for-away-from-home in the SEC.

It's been particularly troubling in the Western Division. The six teams on that side are 2-19 on the road, and Auburn became the first Western Division team to win in an Eastern Division arena this year when it beat South Carolina 75-70 on Wednesday.

"It was huge," Tigers coach Jeff Lebo said. "We've had some close calls on the road. I think it's big for our confidence that we can win on the road. I think we showed a lot of poise throughout that game. When you get on the road, you can see some odd things from your team because of the environment."

You can have some odd reactions from coaches, too. Arkansas' Stan Heath has sworn off pre-game shootarounds on the road, he said, after his team skipped the traditional walk-through before a win at Alabama on Jan. 27.

Poise is the key to winning away from home, most coaches in the conference agree, but no one seems to know why their team has shown so little of it. This year's 27 percent winning clip for road teams is the worst of the decade. In each of the previous six seasons, the road team has won at least 32 percent of the time.

"A lot of times I think your players can get frustrated or rattled (on the road)," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "The home team is usually a little more relaxed and confident that they can make the play. I think it's just the makeup of your group. There are a lot of things that probably go into that."

This year's numbers make what Tennessee did last year all the more impressive. The Volunteers were 5-0 on the road in the Eastern Division last year.

"Road games are the separators," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Our road record last year is what enabled us to win the East. I think the teams that are having success away from home, like Florida, those are definitely key things."

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