Georgia outlasts Western Carolina, 85-79
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Georgia outlasts Western Carolina, 85-79

Georgia-Western Carolina
Photo: Mackenzie Miles/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Holding off a game effort from Western Carolina, the University of Georgia men’s basketball team topped the Catamounts, 85-79, before 7,271 spectators Monday evening at Stegeman Coliseum.

Sophomore Kario Oquendo led Georgia (5-6) with 21 points on 6-for-13 shooting, with senior Braelen Bridges pitching in with 17 points. Senior Noah Baumann led the Bulldogs with a career-high 11 rebounds, while graduate Aaron Cook also set a new career best with 12 assists to go with 13 points. For the night, the Bulldogs shot 44.6 percent from the field, including a 47.1 percent clip in the second half.

“For us, we adjusted,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean following the game. “We had a really good finish to the game with the scoring. They were mixing defenses, and our guys were really active and playing through it. I’m proud we got this one under our belt now because I didn’t like our confidence at all on Saturday night. I thought our confidence came alive in this game.”

Georgia started fast, running out to a 10-3 lead in the opening three minutes before a short drought helped Western Carolina (6-6) narrow the margin to four. However, the Bulldogs found success from beyond the arc, returning to a double-digit lead thanks to consecutive triples from Ridgnal. As the half wore on, the Catamounts continued to cut into the Bulldog lead, making it a three-point game with 3:40 play after running off an 8-2 run.

In need of a timely bucket, Georgia found one with a 3-pointer from sophomore Jabri Abdur-Rahim coming out of the final media timeout. Western Carolina again countered with scores on three of its final four possessions, sending the teams to the locker room with Georgia leading 35-33.

Baumann opened the second half with a 3-pointer as the Bulldogs’ lead hovered around five in the early going, but the Catamounts finally fought back to tie the game at 44 on a triple from redshirt junior forward Joe Petrakis. Six straight Georgia points soon restored the lead, but a 7-0 Western Carolina run sent them ahead for the first time all evening, punctuated by a three from junior forward Marvin Price. After both teams went back and forth trading the lead, Oquendo put the Bulldogs back in front, 61-59, with a thunderous fast break dunk.

Up two with five minutes to play, Bridges drove strong to the basket, earning an old-fashioned three-point play and putting Georgia back up by five. The scoring run would eventually become a 12-3 sequence as Baumann and Oquendo connected from outside. Western Carolina continued to fight back, bringing the margin back down to four with 1:17 remaining, but a wide-open Oquendo answered with a three to seal the contest.

Georgia closes its pre-Christmas run with a matchup against East Tennessee State on Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed live on SEC Network+.

POST-GAME NOTES

• Tonight’s game marks the eighth meeting between the Bulldogs and Catamounts – Georgia leads Western Carolina 8-0 in the series.

• Nearing Milestones – Graduate Aaron Cook tallied a career-high 12 assists and 13 points, notching his second double-double of the season. He is 20 assists away from reaching 400 for his career and 21 steals away from registering his 200th theft.

• Persistent Pair – Georgia used its sixth different starting lineup tonight. Redshirt-senior Braelen Bridges and sophomore Kario Oquendo are the only two Bulldogs to start every game this season.

• Mr. Consistency – Bridges leads the Bulldogs with eight double-figure outings. He also has two nine-point games.

• Career Night – Graduate Noah Baumann recorded a career-high 11 rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes played tonight, while junior Dalen Ridgnal notched a career highs with 10 points and nine rebounds and Oquendo totaled a career-high seven boards.

• Three’s Company – Western Carolina attempted 46 three-pointers, the second-most ever by an opponent.

POST-GAME QUOTES

GEORGIA HEAD COACH TOM CREAN

Opening Statement…
“I’m just really proud of the fight of these guys. I think Brian Fish said it the best after the game. He said, ‘The second half compared to the first half and compared to the first game was the first time that our team wasn’t actively looking for Jaylen (Ingram). When you have a guy that’s a work horse like that. He’s a grown man in the sense of his age, his body, his experience, his physicality and his confidence. It takes a lot out of you. Guys like Jaylen (Ingram) and Aaron (Cook) make you feel safer. Great players I’ve had, that’s a big part of leadership, how much safer you feel playing with them. Players aren’t going to look at it that way, but I, as a coach, look at it that way because it projects confidence in those guys. I’m proud of the way that we fought it out. They were fourth in the country, I think. 46 percent of their points come from the three-point line, which is fourth in the country. Their three-point rate was fourth in the country, and they went way beyond that tonight with the 43 threes that they took tonight. We made the stops that we had to make. It was a bit of a pick our poison type of game because we didn’t want to get into an overhelp situation because of how many threes they take. We kept telling out team it’s like an Alabama game. It’s an Alabama team that tries to create penetration. If you help, they’re going to kick it, and they get the ball swinging. If you don’t help, they’re going to go to the rim. For us, we adjusted. We had a really good finish to the game with the scoring. They were mixing defenses, and our guys were really active and playing through it. I’m proud we got this one under our belt now because I didn’t like our confidence at all on Saturday night. I thought our confidence came alive in this game.”

On Dalen Ridgnal stepping in to help replace Jaylen Ingram…
“There’s a couple things. Another one where Brian Fish said it best. He said that he’s improved more in the last five days than he has in five months. It’s because of that confidence. The injury that he had really set him back. It set him back mobility-wise, contact-wise, all of those things. Really as we started to see Dalen (Ridgnal) more in the Summer and the Fall, we were starting to think it could be January until he could be helpful. We used Keon Ellis as an example from Alabama even though Keon hadn’t been hurt, but it took him a little bit of time for a junior college player to really get adjusted to it. I think Dalen (Ridgnal) would have been fine earlier on if he was fully healthy, but he hasn’t been. I think you’re going to see more athleticism come out and even things like that. I thought the first or second three that he hit, you could just see a glow in him. I know I slapped hands with him as he’s running down the floor. Just so happy to see that because he’s not overly confident yet at this level. For him to be successful, he has to have that confidence. He’s started to show it. When you look at the game, and you look at the two guys who are playing the four-spot, Noah (Baumann) with 11 rebounds. I don’t know if he’s done that since grade school. Somewhere out West, he might have had 11 boards in a game in the eleventh grade. He did a fantastic job, and we moved him around tonight. Those two at the four sport to combine for 16-20 after going I think 17-10 the other night, that’s really good. Noah (Baumann) hasn’t played that position for us, and Dalen (Ridgnal) hasn’t played those minutes. I thought we did a good job of subbing Braelen (Bridges) earlier. We have two people on that right now on the bench because we have a guy pushing him to go harder, and we have a guy looking to say when do we have to get him out. We need him. Where he’s at, he’s not able to play long stretches. He had enough to really do a great job at the end. We took him out, and Dalen (Ridgnal) played the five at one point. He hasn’t even played that in practice for us. We’re a little makeshift right now, but to find a way to win the game. It’s not important who we’re playing, it’s important that we found a way to win the game. I think that’s what we have to have to build our confidence.”

On how Aaron Cook ended up at Georgia…
“We tried to get him a year ago, and we didn’t get very far. When he left Southern (Illinois) and went to Gonzaga, we tried to get involved. Absolutely we did, absolutely. We were on some other guys. I’ve said this before, and it works out this way. There were some guys that we didn’t go on because we still had Sahvir (Wheeler). That was really, at the end of the day, the only thing that I was concerned about. Sahvir is good. Are we going to be able to replace him? What I didn’t want to do was bring in another small guard out of the portal. Then, all of a sudden, Sahvir’s gone. For Aaron to be available, for us to beat the schools that we beat to get him, like Arizona, it came down to the two of us at the end. St. Louis was in it. Wake Forest was in it. That was big because he has a really good second half for us. We’re glad to have him. Our last three signees were big tonight. Aaron Cook, Dalen Ridgnal and Kario Oquendo.”

GEORGIA GRADUATE AARON COOK

On playing in a fast-paced game…
“It was crazy. I don’t think, in all my years of college basketball, that I’ve ever played a team that ran so fast in transition and shot so many threes. Every time we made a basket, it didn’t even matter. They kept attacking. I really respect that team for the effort that they gave tonight and just how they played. They played a really good game. They didn’t back down from a challenge. They made us better tonight. It was a crazy game, but we got the W.”

On second half adjustments…
“I think the biggest thing was, in the first half, they killed us on the offensive boards. I’m not sure what the number was, but that was one thing that we really harped on in the second half, just making sure we get them off the glass. They still got a couple of offensive rebounds, but I feel like guys like Noah Baumann and Dalen (Ridgnal) did a really good job of getting on the glass. Braelen (Bridges), everybody did a really good job of being on the glass. Another thing that we did was overhelp a lot, and that’s something that we’ll have to get better for ETSU.”

On everyone contributing on offense…
“I’ve always told the guys on this team, that’s when we’re going to be at our best. When we get 4, 5, 6, 7 guys in double figures, it’s really hard to lose a game when you have that many guys scoring that many points. Not only that, we had guys getting a lot of rebounds. We had guys getting steals, doing it on the defensive end. It was a complete team effort. I’m really proud of this team for stepping up and accepting the challenge.”

GEORGIA JUNIOR DALEN RIDGNAL

On his impact moving forward…
“I think I can have a really big impact rebounding, shooting threes and passing the ball. I feel like I can really be big for us down the stretch against other teams that we play.”

On the team effort offensively and defensively…
“Actually, my old JUCO, we used to shoot 40 threes a game and we pressed. So, it wasn’t really different for me, but for some of the other guys, I’m sure it was different. It was a different pace. Having four guys in double figures is a big help for everyone. We all need to score, pass the ball, rebound and we’ll be fine.”

On playing without a true center…
“At my old JUCO again, I often played the five so it wasn’t really a big deal for me because I knew I could guard the five man if I had to.”

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