By LARRY VAUGHT
Georgia won’t apply the same intense, in-your-face defensive pressure that Arkansas did or push the ball in transition nearly as fast as the Razorbacks did Saturday when they beat Kentucky by 13 points. However, Kentucky will face one of the Southeastern Conference’s premier players in sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope when it plays at Georgia Thursday.
“I’ve been very impressed with how he’s playing. He’s definitely playing like an all-league player,” said Kentucky assistant coach John Robic. “He is a big guard with great size. He’s able to score in a variety of ways. I would label him as he has a pro’s jump shot because he gets great lift when shooting the ball. It looks like it’s going in every time he shoots it.
“He’s able to post up smaller guards in their system with the way that they play. He’s scoring 30 percent of their points, so he’s a key figure in them. He has elevated his game from his freshman year to his sophomore year. You can tell he’s really worked hard at it. They’re playing the same way; it just seems like he’s playing with a very high confidence level right now.”
Pope averages a team-high 18 points per game for Georgia (14-15, 8-8 SEC) and also leads the team in rebounding (6.9 per game) and steals (62). He’s a 44.1 percent shooter from the field, including 37.8 percent from 3-point range.
Caldwell-Pope is one of just 11 players in all of NCAA Division I that have scored in double figures in each of their team’s games. He’s the only SEC player to accomplish this feat and one of just five from the “BCS” leagues to do so. Caldwell-Pope had 25 points and nine rebounds in a 78-68 win over Tennessee Saturday that snapped the Vols’ six-game win streak.
“He is real good. I had heard people talk about how good he was. I went into that game (with Georgia) saying he is good and went out saying, ‘No, he is really good,’” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “Great demeanor. He is big, good with the ball, good without the ball, shoots on the move, passes. If he was greedy and tried to shoot 25 times, he would be the leading scorer in the conference, but he is trying to win and not play selfishly. It’s fun to watch him play.”
Martin said even when teams stack a defense to stop him, he can still score.
“He is a 6-7 guard that is a jump shooter. He can really, really shoot the basketball. He can jump up over a 6-2 guard from 15 to 17 feet and get a clean look. Those are the guys that are hard to defend,” Martin said.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Pope is one of those rare players that can take over a game.
“For a sophomore to do that tells you what kind of player he is. He is one of the better guards in our conference. He can score, pass, is very athletic and has a very good basketball IQ,” Anderson said. “He is a big guard who can rebound, too. He’s just more well rounded, more seasoned this year.”
Tennessee coach Cuonza Martin is a Caldwell-Pope fan after watching him help Georgia beat Tennessee twice this season, something that had not happened since 2001.
“He is a big-time player,” the Tennessee coach said. “Whenever he advances to the next level, he is going to do it for a long time. I really enjoy watching him play. He has a tremendous pace to his game. He makes shots, but he’s very efficient with the ball. I thought he was a good player last year as a freshman, but he’s better now. He does a good job defensively. He is not one of those guys who scores and hides on defense.”
Cuonzo Martin said he is a “go-to guy” on offense because of the diversity in his play.
“He makes shots. He makes big plays. He moves without the ball. He’s not a guy that just dribbles. He cuts and moves,” the Tennessee coach said. “He scores in transition. He gets steals. He gets to the free throw line. You are not going to stop the guy because he is so effective in other areas. He’s not a guy hunting his shot or forcing shots. He plays within the offense.
“He’s not a guy that dominates the ball. He can catch and shoot. He gets the ball in his hands and makes plays. If (defensive) guys are around him, he finds guys driving to the rim. He does a good job making plays for others.”
Georgia coach Mark Fox says Caldwell-Pope’s unselfish attitude and all-around play make him difficult to stop from scoring.
“He is a very complete player. There are a lot of things he can do. Every night he usually plays well because you can n ot stop the guy from doing everything,” Fox said. “He may not shoot well, but he will rebound and play defense. It might not be the night he shoots it in, but he will get steals. He is usually able to make a lot of really good plays. He has matured as a player and got more efficient. I think this year he is understanding there is a different level of mental attention needed to be a great player.”