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February 11, 2013TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama might be playing the hottest basketball team in the Southeastern Conference tonight.
No, it's not the Florida Gators. It's not the Kentucky Wildcats.
It's the Georgia Bulldogs.
Quietly, Georgia has reeled off five straight SEC wins, matching Kentucky for the league's longest active winning streak.
The Bulldogs are still just barely above .500 and the opposition hasn't been fierce - the streak includes Texas A&M (twice), Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina - but it has put Georgia, quietly, into contention for one of the top four spots in the league standings.
"I have never not liked this team," Georgia coach Mark Fox said Monday. "I always liked this team, even when we were 2-7. We just had to get some confidence.
"You can't live life backwards. That's why the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror."
"If you look at their team's success, obviously (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope is a key part of it, a terrific scorer and their best defender," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "But they play 11 guys, and they all seem to understand exactly what they want to do. That is why they are playing so well."
Caldwell-Pope, a 6-foot-5 forward who is projected as an NBA first-rounder, has carried the offensive load for Georgia. He also showed on-court maturity in the most recent Bulldog win over Texas A&M, attempting just three shots from the field but hitting all 10 of his foul shots. Over the past five games, Caldwell-Pope has made 63.3 percent of his field goals (31 of 49), 50 percent of his 3-point attempts (14 of 28) and 90.5 percent of his free throws (19 of 21). He is one of only 12 players in NCAA Division I to score in double figures in each of his team's games this season.
Alabama, in the meantime, has struggled offensively although the UA defense keyed a win over LSU on Saturday.
"As long as we play to our identity, we will be OK," Grant said.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.