January 3, 2013

Hoop Dawgs making headway?

With so much youth, Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox has seen his team battle issues with consistency for basically the entire year.

But finally, the Bulldogs appear to be making some headway.

The Bulldogs (5-7) enter Friday night's non-conference game against George Washington (7 p.m., CSS) on a season-best three-game winning streak, a rise Fox acknowledges is due to Georgia finally showing some of the consistency he's been waiting to see.

"We played against Mercer, probably 38 good minutes. Against S.C., we probably played a bigger chunk of quality minutes. I don't think we did the other night (against Florida A&M) but we played so well early, we sort of took our foot off the gas," Fox said Thursday. "We made some progress but I think we're still - because of our immaturity and youth - not the consistent group that I'd like us to be, but we have found some success. But we've still got a higher level that we can reach and we're going to push to try and get there."

Friday's first-ever meeting with George-Washington (6-6) will be Georgia's final non-conference contest before beginning SEC play next Wednesday at Florida.

"We've got a little momentum," sophomore Nemanja Djurisic said. "We've had good practices and it's translating over to games , at least that's what we've been able to do these last three. We just need to keep it up."

But Fox warns it won't be easy.

Lack of consistency goes hand in hand with youth, and Georgia has plenty of that.

Not only has freshman Charles Mann taken over one of the guard spots from senior Vincent Williams, but fellow frosh Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris are starting to make their presence felt.

The trio is averaging 40.5 minutes and 12.1 points per game, numbers that have steadily increased over the past four contests.

Mann leads this group in minutes at 18.8 per contest and a 5.5 points-per-game average. Morris, meanwhile, earned his first start against Iona after a solid performance at Georgia Tech. The young forward scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Iona and recently scored all 10 of his points in the second half against Southern Cal.

Fox said the trio has certainly earned the playing time they are beginning to receive.

"We have some very talented freshmen and they've earned their way on the floor," Fox said. "There are a lot of errors when they play, but we've got to live with a lot of those, with as many young guys as there are on the floor."

That may be the way Fox and the Bulldogs have to play for a while. On Thursday, Fox revealed that junior forward Marcus Thornton had his knee scoped the day after Christmas and is out indefinitely.

Thornton has now had surgery on both knees in the past year, something Fox admits is starting to wear the Atlanta native down.

"It's hard for him because he's just been in pain the entire time he's been here. He's had surgery on both knees, and he shows a lot of his frustration on his face," Fox said. "That's hard on a guy to have had pain in both knees and to play, so I just hate seeing him struggle with the pain and frustration. Hopefully, we can get him healthy but you just pray that one day he will be."

Fox added there's still a chance that Thornton could redshirt, but that has yet to be determined.

Thornton's absence will also affect Georgia's rotation whenever Fox elects to go with a smaller lineup.

"We've played small, but without Marcus, it gets to be a little more of a challenge," Fox said. "We played a lineup the other day where we had three freshmen and Tim Dixon, that's three freshmen (Mann, Kaines, Morris) and two sophomore (Dixon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope), but when we go small, we get awfully, awfully young. We'll still go small, but probably not as much as before Marcus was hurt."