With a record of 1-4 in conference play, and two home games coming up, the Vanderbilt Commodores are probably at the crossroads of the season. They played well in the second half of last Wednesday's 87-75 loss to Florida in Gainesville, and got particulary good play from Matt Freije (21 points) and Jason Holwerda (17 points). Now they must win at home if they are to have any chance at all to make the NCAA tournament.
The Georgia Bulldogs are 4-1 in their conference games, with three home wins (L.S.U., 89-63; Tennessee, 81-76; Auburn, 85-79). They defeated Arkansas 81-64 in one road game and lost 66-63 to Florida in another. With a 12-4 overall record, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 15 in the AP poll. In non-conference play they defeated some tough opponents, including Pittsburgh 79-67, Gonzaga 95-83, California 78-73, and Colorado 71-70, and the three defeats (to Texas, Georgia Tech, and Minnesota) were all close games on the road.
6-7 junior Jarvis Hayes leads the team in scoring with 18.3 ppg. He is an all-SEC player and a bonafide candidate for All-American honors. He makes about 54% of his shots, both overall and from three-point range, and 80% of his free throws. Hayes was bothered by a hip injury, and was held to only 12 points by Auburn Saturday, but four of his teammates scored in double-digits and produced sufficient offense to overcome the Tigers.
6-4 senior Ezra Williams scores 18.0 ppg. He makes 48.5% of his three-pointers and led the team in the Auburn game with 19 points. At 235 pounds, he is strong and grabs 5.7 rebounds per game. Williams and Hayes give Georgia the best pair of wing shooters in the conference, if not in the country.
Although he doesn't get much attention, 6-3 junior Rashad Wright is the steadiest point guard in the conference. His assists to turnover ratio is extraordinary, nearly four to one. He gets almost six assists per game and scores 8.3 ppg, but leaves most of the long-range bombing to Jarvis Hayes and Williams.
Chris Daniels, 6-7 junior (10.2 ppg) is making over 50% of his shots from the field. Along with Wright, he is the glue that holds the team together, and a fiery competitor. He leads in blocked shots (31) from his high post position and grabs over six rebounds per game.
6-8 junior Steve Thomas plays the low post and has easily been the leading rebounder (7.4 per game) since returning to the team after missing the first seven games. Furthermore he is averaging 10 points.
Last year there were times when the Bulldogs had almost no bench. This year they have been nearly injury free and gotten solid reserve duty from 6-8 junior Jonas Hayes and 6-7 junior Damien Wilkens. Playing over 20-25 minutes per game, this pair is scoring 7.8 and 7.3 ppg respectively. Jonas Hayes spells Thomas and Daniels and Wilkens backs up Wright, Jarvis Hayes, and Williams. Wilkens has proved to be a decent play-maker and reliable ball handler.
6-4 senior Richard Wehunt is a dangerous three-point shooter, although he has seen only limited action. 6-4 freshman Wayne Arnold and 6-4 sophomore Fred Gibson may also get into the game. Gibson, who recently rejoined the team, is better known as a football player and saw considerable duty last year, when Coach Jim Harrick was desperate for players.
An examination of the team statistics shows that Georgia is about the best offensive team in the SEC. The Bulldogs are first in scoring and three-point accuracy, and make over 70% of their free-throws. They are also tops in assists and assist/turnover ratio. On the other hand, they are give up about 72 points per game, the most of any team, but this is partially due to the strength of their schedule. Lacking any player over 6-8, they are only eighth in rebounding margin.
Georgia does not often blow the opposition away. They are a scrappy team that must play efficiently to win. Certainly this is a game in which Vanderbilt has a good chance for victory, provided they match the Bulldogs in intensity, and especially if Jarvis Hayes is still not 100% physically. With their superior size, the Commodores should have an advantage on the boards. On paper, the game is a toss-up, and could easily go down to the last few seconds and be decided on last-minute breaks.