GAME NOTES: Two of the SEC's hottest teams will be put to the test on Saturday afternoon, as the Arkansas Razorbacks welcome the Georgia Bulldogs to Bud Walton Arena.
Although Georgia's 16-11 overall record doesn't seem overly impressive, it has been the most pleasant surprise in the SEC this season, winning 10 of its 15 league matchups as it sits alone in third place behind only Florida and Kentucky. The Bulldogs' have won two in a row and six of their last seven, most recently downing Missouri at home on Tuesday night, 71-56, but they have gone only 3-6 on the road.
Arkansas has gotten hot just in time for the stretch run, winning four straight games to surge to 19-9 overall and 8-7 in SEC play. The Razorbacks' NCAA Tournament resume received a huge boost on Thursday night when they went into Rupp Arena and downed nationally-ranked Kentucky in overtime, 71-67, and now they return home, where they've gone an outstanding 14-2.
The teams needed overtime to decide the first matchup this season, with Georgia coming out on top in a 66-61 decision at home on Jan. 18. Arkansas still leads the all-time series, 17-14.
The Bulldogs carried a nine-point lead into intermission in their most recent game and never had their advantage threatened down the stretch as they dropped Missouri by a 15-point final. They shot a lofty 52.1 percent from the field, much better than Mizzou's 32.1 percent, and were paced by a 19-point, eight- rebound effort by Charles Mann. Marcus Thornton shot 6-of-8 from the floor on his way to 15 points, while Kenny Gaines was also solid with 10 points.
Georgia has had a rather modest season offensively, shooting 44.1 percent from the field and a mere 67.1 percent at the free-throw line for 69.1 ppg, but most of its success can be attributed to a sound defensive effort, as it holds opposing teams to just 39.5 percent and 66.7 ppg. It also owns a strong +4.5 rebounding margin, but it gives away several possessions per game with a -2.4 turnover margin. Mann is the leading scorer with 13.5 ppg, although his percentages from the field (.405) and the foul line (.682) leave plenty to be desired. Gaines is the only other player in double figures with 12.6 ppg, although Brandon Morris and Nemanja Djurisic both net 9.1 ppg.
The Razorbacks were in control of their latest contest early, leading by as many as 12 in the first half, but after coughing up the lead, they sent the game to overtime on a pair of Rashad Madden free throws with 30 seconds left in regulation, and they made the first bucket in the extra session and held on to the lead down the stretch. They shot just 41.4 percent from the field and committed an unseemly 20 turnovers, but they were perfect at the free-throw line on 16 attempts and held Kentucky to a lowly 34.2 percent shooting. Michael Qualls paced the effort with 14 points, while Madden (12), Coty Clarke (11) and Anthlon Bell (10) also scored in double figures.
On the season, Arkansas owns a prolific scoring attack, making good on 44.5 percent of its field-goal tries (including 36.1 percent of its 3-point attempts) for 80.1 ppg, which has been more than enough to support its modest scoring defense (70.4 ppg). It also owns an outstanding +5.5 turnover margin, but it gives away possessions every game as well with a -2.7 rebounding margin. Bobby Portis paces the balanced attack with 12.9 ppg (on 54.4 percent field goal shooting) and 6.6 rpg. Madden (12.6 ppg), Qualls (12.0 ppg), Clarke (9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Alandise Harris (8.9 ppg) are also regular contributors.
Arkansas' confidence is riding sky-high after its thrilling win in Lexington earlier in the week, and it should be able to carry that momentum back home where it has been outstanding all season long.
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