December 6, 2010

Dawgs, Jackets square off on the court

Travis Leslie won't lie.

He enjoyed talking trash to his friends on the Georgia Tech basketball team after Georgia's 73-66 win last year in Athens. Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN2) in Atlanta, he's hoping to get bragging rights once again.

"Oh yeah, I talked a lot of trash," Leslie said Monday. "But this is a new year, so I'll wait until this game is over."

But make no mistake; this is a game the Bulldogs (5-2) dearly want to win - for a number of reasons.

With six more games before starting SEC play Jan. 8 against Kentucky; Georgia would obviously like to reel off as many non-conference victories as possible before diving into the conference slate.

However, beating instate rival Georgia Tech (4-3) will always be the best reason of all.

Even a relative newcomer to the rivalry like head coach Mark Fox knows that.

"I don't think you have to live within the state to know that," Fox said. "This is a rivalry whose reputation extends beyond the state borders, just like most of the good ones do. It's a very healthy rivalry in all sports. I think it's really good for athletics."

Especially, he said, when the combatants on both sides are so familiar with the other.

Yellow Jacket starting center Daniel Miller was a Bulldog signee, until he was released from his scholarship by Fox upon his arrival. Leslie, meanwhile, was a high school teammate of Tech's Lance Storrs and remains close friends.

But that only adds to the rivalry.

"Oh yeah, it makes you want to beat them that much more," said Leslie, who is also good friends with Inman Shumpert and Glenn Rice, Jr., among others. "It's Georgia Tech, we hate them; they hate us. That's just how it is when we get together."

Tech has dropped its last two games, an 80-76 decision to Syracuse in the championship game of the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., and a 91-71 defeat at Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Head coach Paul Hewitt's squad brings back two starters and eight letter winners from a team that won three games in last year's ACC Tournament to reach the championship game, and then won their first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Tech has been picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Georgia meanwhile has won two straight, a 61-58 decision over Manhattan in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., and a 66-64 win over UAB at home Friday night. None of the Bulldogs' seven games have been decided by more than nine points, four of them by three or less.

The Yellow Jackets are 31-8 all-time against the Bulldogs in Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

"Obviously at this time of year we're both still trying to figure out who we are and what kind of team we're going to be," Hewitt said. "But it's also the type of game, where if you look down the road, it might swing a decision or two when it comes to postseason bids."

For now, however, bragging rights will do just fine.

"No question. Most of the guys played on the same teams," Bulldog senior Chris Barnes said. "It's a battle between friends and there's always been a lot of hype. We all hang out together a lot, so when we can hang one (a win) over the other one's head, that's a good thing."

NOTE: Georgia officials announced Monday that the Dec. 31 game at Stegeman Coliseum between the Bulldogs and visiting Eastern Kentucky has been moved up to 1 p.m. so fans can return home in time to watch the football team take on Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m.

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