'It was a complete team effort:' Georgia outlasts WCU, gains confidence moving forward
Athens, Ga. — It was a total team effort for Georgia in an 85-79 victory over Western Carolina on Monday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
The ‘get right’ mentality for the Bulldogs (5-6) proved to be the difference, especially after losing a hard-fought battle against George Mason just two days prior.
“I’m happy that I played well,” said Georgia senior Aaron Cook. “I’m happy that my teammates played really well. We had a lot of guys score a lot of points, so I can’t complain.”
Georgia led for a majority of the contest, although Western Carolina (6-6) took their first lead with 15:57 remaining in the second half. Both squads traded blows down the stretch, but a key basket by freshman Kario Oquendo at the 5:45 mark gave Georgia a huge momentum boost.
“We’re a little makeshift right now,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean in his post-game press conference. “But to win the game, it’s not important who we’re playing, it’s important that we found a way to win the game. That’s what we have to do to build some confidence.”
Western Carolina could never recover after Oquendo’s clutch dunk. The Bulldogs also forced several turnovers in the final minutes, which helped secure the victory over the Catamounts.
“We made the stops that we had to make,” Crean added. “It was a bit of a ‘pick your poison’ type of game because we didn’t want to get into an over-help type of situation because of how many threes they take.”
Western Carolina tied a season-high for attempted 3-pointers, shooting 46 against Georgia. Regardless, the Catamounts’ face-paced and transition-oriented offensive attack kept them in the game longer than expected. They shot 41.9 percent from the field in the defeat.
“It was pretty crazy,” said Cook. “I don’t think in all my years of college basketball, I’ve played a team that ran so fast in transition and shot so many threes. Every time we made a basket, it didn’t 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."
Western Carolina trailed by double-figures multiple times throughout the game but clawed its way back. The Bulldogs have struggled at times this season when giving up a lead, however, they didn’t falter when trailing late, especially because of the key adjustments coming at the right moment.
“We had a really good finish to the game with the scoring,” Crean said. “They were mixing defenses, and our guys were really active and played 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. It was a great team effort and win.”
Georgia had four players in double-figures, led by Oquendo, who registered 21 points. Bridges followed with 17 points, Cook totaled 13 and freshman Dalen Ridgnal had 10, respectively.
"I've always told the guys on this team, that's when we're going to be at our best,” said Cook. “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."
The Bulldogs will host East Tennessee State in Stegeman Coliseum at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night.
Here is the video from Cook’s post-game interview: