Will St. Mary's survive Bulldogs' bite?

Will Gaels survive Bulldogs' bite?

Perhaps smarting from their undeniable NCAA tournament snub, the Gaels needed every trick in the bag to nip New Mexico State in the NIT’s opening round. Will Georgia be able to send St. Mary’s to the canvas for good?

It’s a WCC-SEC battle in California this evening, with oddsmakers still giving the host school the benefit of the doubt. Online sports book Bovada.lv lists No. 2 seed St. Mary’s as a 7-point favorite against the rough-and-tumble Bulldogs.

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Head coach Mark Fox has actually received equal parts physicality and scoring efficiency of late. Sophomore forward Yante Maten registered a career-high 33 points in Wednesday’s 93-84 triumph over Belmont, while Charles Mann added 23 and four assists. The duo bears more responsibility now than ever in light of offensive catalyst J.J. Frazier’s ongoing ankle trouble, and yet the ample expectations continue to be exceeded.

The Gaels (28-5), of course, saw their Big Dance aspirations crumble one week ago. Despite a regular-season conference championship and a tight loss to Gonzaga in the WCC final, St. Mary’s was left out in the cold by the selection committee. Randy Bennett’s team took its 27 victories into a surprisingly vicious battle with the Aggies instead.

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That 58-56 outcome exposed several of the Gaels’ shortcomings. They frittered away a sizable lead due to poor free-throw shooting and carelessness with the basketball, two areas in which the Bulldogs excelled down the stretch. To wit: Georgia's charity-stripe percentage in the last seven checked in at 81.0.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the Bulldogs (20-13) have won six of those contests. With Kenny Gaines and Frazier providing steadiness in the backcourt, the opposition typically doesn’t get many chances to pilfer pockets, either. Even in an away setting, look for UGA to give St. Mary’s another scare.

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