Caldwell-Pope a force for Georgia as Bulldogs await Kentucky

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2013 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

You don't have to be James Naismith to figure out the player Kentucky must contain at Georgia on Thursday. You don't even have to be a coach or, as UK Coach John Calipari likes to say dismissively, a "Basketball Bennie."

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been Georgia's leading scorer in 26 of 29 games this season. He's among only 11 players in the so-called BCS conferences — and the only player in the Southeastern Conference — to score 10 or more points in every game. He's Georgia's only player with a double-digit scoring average.

So the most casual observer knows Kentucky must — duh — contain KCP to w-i-n.

Despite defenses stacked against him, Caldwell-Pope has excelled. He ranks among the top 10 in nine of the 13 statistical categories recorded by the league. He's second to Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson in scoring at 18 points per game.

An SEC coach synonymous with defense, Cuonzo Martin of Tennessee, saluted Caldwell-Pope's approach and acknowledged the difficulty in containing Georgia's leading scorer.

"He's not forcing anything," Martin said. "He makes shots. He makes big plays. He moves without the ball."

Versatility works to KCP's advantage.

"He's not a guy that dominates the ball: just dribble, dribble, dribble," Martin said. "They screen for him. He scores in transition. He gets some steals. He plays well at both ends of the floor. He gets to the foul line."

Caldwell-Pope leads Georgia with 62 steals.

"He scores in a variety of ways, so it's hard to say this is the one way you can stop him," Martin said. "... You're not really going to stop the guy because he's so effective in other areas."

Georgia Coach Mark Fox has noted the need to find scorers to complement Caldwell-Pope. The Bulldogs' second-leading scorer is forward Nemanja Djurisic at 7.7 ppg.

If he feels frustration, Caldwell-Pope has not expressed it.

"The team is stepping up," he said last week. "Besides just me scoring, we're starting to have five or six guys to score the ball and that's helped us a lot during games when we need it in big situations if I can't get the ball and need other people to score. They've been doing that since we won those five games in a row."

Maybe so. But it was business as usual Saturday as KCP's 25 points led Georgia to a 78-68 victory over Tennessee.

UK assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari on the league's weekly teleconference Monday, said Caldwell-Pope's size as a guard (6-foot-5) and shooting stroke present problems for any defense.

Robic said Caldwell-Pope has a pro jump shot, "because he gets great lift when shooting."

The sophomore star has made 44.1 percent of his shots (37.8 percent from three-point range).

Perhaps as further testament to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's defensive will, Caldwell-Pope did not hurt UK last season. He made only seven of 24 shots (two of 12 from beyond the arc) in scoring seven and nine points. That represented two of the 10 games he's failed to reach double digits in two college seasons.

"Kentavious has improved in a lot of areas," Fox said earlier this season. "I think he's just playing more efficiently this year. He doesn't have to shoot it 20 times to be productive. I think he's understanding to start making people better. He's had a very mature approach. He's eager to get better. He's just really matured to a certain extent."

Caldwell-Pope has been reliable in the clutch. In the last five minutes of league games, he's made 65 percent of his shots (22 of 34) and 61.9 percent of his three-point attempts (13 of 21). He's also made 30 of 36 free throws.

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy suggested that Caldwell-Pope is the SEC's best all-around guard.

"He's not a watcher," Kennedy said. "The thing I can't stand sometimes is guys watching the ball. He's always engaged in the game in all facets."

Caldwell-Pope, who turned 20 on Feb. 18, grew up in Greenville, Ga., which is about 55 miles southwest of Atlanta. He came to Georgia as a McDonald's All-American and lived up to the billing. Fox noted how KCP has improved as a defensive player.

"I think he knew he had a weakness, that teams were coming right at him," the Georgia coach said. "He's a competitive kid, and he didn't like that, so he's really worked at it.

"He wants to be a complete player. That's very rewarding as a coach to see a kid who works as hard as he does."


Next game

Kentuckyat Georgia

When: Thursday, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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