The unlikely winning streak has given Georgia its first winning record since a season-opening win over Jacksonville in early November. Suddenly there is new life for a season that only a month ago seemed past the point of salvaging.
The Bulldogs, a still-modest 12-11 overall, are 6-4 in the SEC entering tonight’s home game against Alabama. Coach Mark Fox said Monday he has seen a long-awaited rise in the confidence of his players with the program’s longest SEC winning streak since 2001.
Fox said self-belief was in short supply after the opening win over Jacksonville was followed by deflating home losses to Youngstown State and Southern Miss.
“Our team had a slow start to the year and never really became confident,” Fox said “We’ve just been fighting uphill most of the season.”
The one constant has been Caldwell-Pope, a sophomore who is the SEC’s only player to score in double figures in every game this season. Caldwell-Pope is second in the league with his average of 17.5 points per game, and he has had at least a share of Georgia’s scoring lead in 20 of 23 games.
Proof that Georgia can win without the typical scoring leadership from Caldwell-Pope came Saturday, when he was held without a field goal for the first time in his career. He had only 10 points, all on free throws, in Georgia’s 52-46 win over Texas A&M.
“Every player on the team is contributing to scoring,” Caldwell-Pope said.
Nemanja Djurisic led Georgia with 13 points off the bench.
The game against Alabama (15-8, 7-3 SEC) could reveal more about Georgia’s progress. The five straight wins have come against teams with losing conference records, including two wins over Texas A&M. The Bulldogs also beat Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee in the streak.
Now the schedule becomes more difficult. After facing Alabama, the Bulldogs play three of their next four games on the road, including back-to-back games at Mississippi and Arkansas, which each have only one home loss.
Georgia was just trying to stay out of last place in the league before its winning streak, so it won’t apologize for any wins. The most impressive point of the streak is that three of the five straight wins came on the road.
Georgia will need better offensive production to extend the streak. The Bulldogs beat the Aggies Saturday despite shooting only 32.4 percent with a season-low 12 field goals on 36 attempts.
Caldwell-Pope is the team’s only player with a scoring average in double figures.
Georgia is leaning heavily on three freshmen. Forward Brandon Morris has moving into the starting lineup. Freshman guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines have seen their scoring increase in the SEC schedule.
“I still don’t think we’re playing our best basketball,” Fox said. “I think there’s a lot of room for us still to improve. I think we have been pretty good for the most part defensively.”
The Bulldogs were only 7-11 overall and 1-4 in the league before the turnaround. Since then, point guard Vincent Williams said he can see the rise in his teammates’ confidence.
“We’re starting to really see how good we can be,” Williams said. “Everybody is starting to buy into the system.”