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Friday July 3rd, 2015 8:26AM

Struggling Georgia basketball to open SEC play vs. Missouri

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA -- Georgia has used better balance to more than make up for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's scoring.

Caldwell-Pope's rebounding and defense, however, have proved to be more difficult to replace for Georgia, which plays at No. 21 Missouri on Wednesday night in its Southeastern Conference opener.

Caldwell-Pope left Georgia following his sophomore season and was the No. 8 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.

Coach Mark Fox said everyone talked about the challenge of replacing Caldwell-Pope's team-leading average of 18.5 points per game last season. Scoring hasn't been the problem.

"I think the thing that has been disappointing about our team and has led to inconsistent performance has been the inconsistency of our defense and rebounding," Fox said. "We have not been really consistently effective in those two areas and that's critical to win."

Georgia (6-6) has lost back to back games to Colorado and George Washington by double-digit margins.

The surprise is Georgia's scoring and shooting have improved.

"We're a better offensive this year than we were last year," Fox said Monday. "We're a team that has more people scoring. We're more efficient. I think you don't quite replace the No. 8 pick in the draft, but we felt like by committee we'd be a better offensive team. I think that's proven to be fairly true."

Georgia is averaging 71.8 points per game, a big jump from last season's 60.8 per game. The Bulldogs' field-goal percentage is dramatically better at 48.1, up from 40.8 percent.

Two sophomore guards, Charles Mann (13.0) and Kenny Gaines (11.5) are leading Georgia's balanced scoring. Forward Nemanja Djurisic (10.8) has made 15 of 29 3-pointers.

Caldwell-Pope also led Georgia with 7.1 rebounds per game last season.

"Where we have not replaced Kentavious is on the glass," Fox said. "He was our leading rebounder two years in a row. We have not replaced him at the defensive end. We have not replaced him on the glass."

Georgia ranks 12th in the SEC with its average of 69.6 points allowed. It also ranks 12th in the league in rebounds.

Fox said Georgia must play tougher.

"I think in any sport - if it is football - you have to be good in the trenches to win and it's very similar in basketball," Fox said. "You have to be very good in the dirty work areas and we have not been and this is probably the first group I've ever had that has not been as consistent there.

"This group has to improve there and the good news is these are areas that can be fixed."

Georgia is 6-0 when it has outrebounded opponents.

Fox is 71-69 in his fifth season at Georgia. The Bulldogs finished 15-17 overall and 9-9 in the SEC last season. It was only the third Georgia team in 10 years to finish .500 or better in the SEC.

Georgia is coming off a 73-55 loss to George Washington. Sophomore forward Cameron Forte set career highs with 14 points and eight rebounds, but still the Bulldogs were held to their season scoring low.

Fox's father, Raymond Lewis Fox died Saturday from lung disease. He was 78.

Fox attended a memorial service for his father on Tuesday in Garden City, Kan., before joining his team for Wednesday night's game.
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