Originally created 01/26/01

SEC notebook



Tennessee is playing at Georgia on a Saturday afternoon in a sold-out game rife with conference championship implications.

The script has been written plenty of times, but the novelty of this showdown is that it will take place on the hardwood instead of the gridiron.

The Volunteers (17-2, 4-1 SEC) are ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation, and the Bulldogs, winners of five straight, might be the biggest surprise in the nation.

That's what makes the 4 p.m. game at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens the biggest in years for Georgia.

"It's time to step up and play with the big boys, if that's what your team has asked for," said second-year Bulldogs coach Jim Harrick, whose team has sole possession of first place in the SEC East for the first time since 1990. "We probably asked for it."

They've asked in the form of a statement. After a rugged pre-conference schedule left them with six losses in their first 12 games, the Bulldogs (12-7, 5-1) pulled together and have won three straight conference games on the road.

They delivered perhaps their most impressive performance to date Wednesday, when they built a 16-point lead at Vanderbilt before holding off a late rally and winning, 82-73.

Even Georgia fans, whose obsessive consumption with football frequently diminishes their support for basketball, are taking notice. Saturday's game is a sellout, as is Wednesday's tilt with visiting Kentucky.

"Our students have really shown up and shown up real well, and it seems like it's just building," said Harrick, who won just 10 games his first year at Georgia. "I've always been a believer if you get it done and you win, they will come."

THEY CALL ME THE HUNTED:

Georgia isn't the only team adjusting to a new role.

The No. 6 Volunteers, who were average for the better part of 15 years before coach Jerry Green's arrival in 1998, don't enjoy the anonymity of mediocrity anymore.

Tennessee has amassed a combined record of 84-27 in three-plus seasons on Green's watch and tied for the regular-season East title last season, which makes forays into hostile arenas doubly tough.

Green's bunch has gotten a good taste of road rage this season. The Vols needed double overtime to squeak by at Auburn on Jan. 6, and they got thumped at Kentucky 10 days later.

"You just don't sneak up on anybody," Green said. "It's like wearing a bulls-eye on the back of your jersey; people will give you their best shot."

EXTRA POINTS:

South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler said forward Calvin Clemmons, who missed last week's loss to Auburn with a sprained ankle, is healthy and will play Saturday at Florida. ... Gators coach Billy Donovan said forward Brent Wright, who returned from a foot injury and played 13 minutes in Wednesday's win at Auburn, will continue to play in a limited role. ... Georgia freshman point guard Rashad Wright has 18 assists and two turnovers the past three games.

OLD SCHOOL:

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings takes the hardest line among SEC coaches against trash talking and showboating.

He doesn't allow it. Period.

"I'm not big on it, but it doesn't offend me with other teams," Stallings said. "It just offends me with our own team. I don't want it from them out there. That's just my personality."

Vanderbilt's players are not even allowed to complain about the officiating. Last year, Stallings benched Dan Langhi the game after the Commodores played Tennessee because Vandy's star player had openly questioned officials' calls on the court.

HOME, SWEET, HOME:

Where's the toughest place to play in the SEC?

"Based on impressions I have after a year and four or five games, I would have to pick among Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky," Stallings said.

South Carolina's Eddie Fogler is more diplomatic. "I'm not going to say what the toughest is, but my favorite is (Kentucky's) Rupp Arena," he said.

Information from other news services was used in this report.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larrywill7@yahoo.com.