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No. 22 Auburn set to face resurgent Georgia

Dec 10, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Auburn Tigers guard Wendell Green Jr. (1) dives over Memphis Tigers guard Kendric Davis (3) in the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia is off to its best start in 13 seasons and will face the toughest test to date in the opener of SEC play when it hosts No. 22 Auburn on Wednesday in Athens, Ga.

Georgia’s 78-72 win over visiting Rider on Dec. 28 marked the first time since the 2010-11 season — and just the fourth time in the program’s 118-year history — that the Bulldogs (10-3, 0-0 SEC) reached double-digit wins before Jan. 1.

While it has yet to play a ranked team, Georgia’s nonconference accomplishments are impressive considering the Bulldogs are coming off the worst season in SEC history.

After losing to Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs finished the season at 6-26, including 1-17 in league play. The Bulldogs’ 26 losses were the most by a team in a single season in SEC history.

Coach Tom Crean was let go after going 47-75 in four seasons and replaced by Mike White, who arrived after leading Florida to four NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons.

Georgia will attempt to find out how good it really is when it begins conference play against the Tigers (11-2, 1-0), who opened league play with a 61-58 win over Florida on Dec. 28.

“We just have to lock in even more,” Georgia guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim said when asked what the Bulldogs need to do to be successful in the SEC.

“Our theme and our word this season is ‘details.’ When we lock in and do the little things like we did tonight, we are hard to beat.”

Georgia is led by Kario Oquendo (14.3 points per game, 3.9 rebounds) and Terry Roberts (14.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists), while Braelen Bridges averages 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds. Justin Hill averages 7.3 points and 3.1 assists. Abdur-Rahim scores 6.2 points.

Auburn, which beat Georgia twice last year en route to winning the SEC’s regular-season title, has won three of its past four games. The Tigers were a No. 2 seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament.

Auburn forced Florida to shoot 19 of 47 (40.4 percent) from the field, including an abysmal 3 of 19 (15.8 percent) from 3-point range.

“That’s our team. We’ve got to win defensively,” Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr. said. “You know, (the) offense is not always going to be there. And you know, championship teams, they have the best defense. So, I think that’s our biggest thing this year for the whole conference play.”

Green averages a team-high 12.7 points and 3.5 assists per game, while Johni Broome, a transfer from Morehead State, averages 12.3 points, a team-high 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Jaylin Williams chips in 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, with K.D. Johnson averaging 9.8 points per game.

“Our guys understand it’s going to be a grind this year,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after the Tigers overcame a four-point deficit in the final five minutes against the Gators. “(It’s) going to be a rock fight.”

–Field Level Media