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Cook helps pick up slack as Georgia outlasts FIU
Athens, Ga. — It took Georgia graduate transfer, Aaron Cook, a little while to get adjusted on the floor. However, once the former Gonzaga product found his rhythm, it helped the Bulldogs secure a 58-51 victory in the season opener against FIU on Tuesday.
Cook managed to be the only Georgia player in double-digits, notching 10 points in his debut. He also added six rebounds, eight assists and three steals against the Panthers. Cook scored a majority of his points for the Bulldogs in the second half and shot 75 percent from the free-throw line.
“Having that crowd here tonight was a huge help,” Cook said. “Just their energy [kind of] brought our energy up and made us play even harder. Our team did a really good job of coming together defensively. Like I said earlier, we really just got it going defensively, and that’s what got our energy level going. It also helped us on offense as well.”
The Bulldogs trailed early and couldn’t get shots to fall in the first several minutes, but they started to succeed towards the end of the first half. Regardless, FIU led 27-22 at halftime behind a strong performance from the 3-point line. The Panthers nailed 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) from beyond the arc. It also didn’t help that Georgia had 10 first-half turnovers, with three of them coming from Cook.
“Our coaches made a really good adjustment going into the second half,” Cook said. “We knew that they liked to drive-and-kick, so they told us to stay home on shooters and force them to take tough shots. Once we looked in on that, our defense started our offense, which is what got everything going.”
That’s exactly what Georgia’s defense did, which was limiting the Panthers to shoot 18 percent (2-of-11) from beyond the arc in the second half. The Bulldogs also held the Panthers to under 35 percent overall from the field. On the other hand, Georgia shot 41.4 percent (12-of-29) in the second half while out-rebounding FIU throughout the entire contest.
“That’s one thing coach [Tom] Crean has told me a lot about coming into the season,” Cook said when asked about the Bulldogs crashing the boards. “He told me he wants us to rebound a lot more. As a team, we all crashed the glass really aggressively tonight.”
Cook, who was on Gonzaga’s runner-up team last season, was appreciative of the opportunity he’s getting at Georgia.
“As far as being here, I am loving it,” Cook said. “So far, we are all gelling and trying to figure it out as we go, but we’re doing a really good job of working hard every day. So, I can’t really ask for anything else.”
Crean played 10 players against the Panthers with nine of them registering points. It was a team effort as redshirt senior Braelen Bridges, junior Jaxon Etter and sophomore Kario Oquendo all finished with nine points, respectively. Freshman Christian Wright added seven points off the bench. Graduate transfer Jailyn Ingram, who was limited against the Panthers, totaled six points.
“Gelling, it’s a constant thing,” Cook said. “It’s almost never-ending throughout the entire season. We’re trying to figure out how to play with one another and understand who does what well. You know, that’s one of my jobs as a point guard is figuring out how to get guys in position and make plays for everybody.”
The Bulldogs have a ton of new faces, including Cook, Bridges, Oquendo, Ingram and Wright.
“With 10 new guys, we’re all doing a good job,” Cook said. “As I said, we’re coming in and working hard every day, so that’s all we can really ask for, and continue to make that chemistry build.”
Georgia (1-0) will be on the road this weekend against Cincinnati (1-0) on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7:00 p.m EST in Fifth Third Arena.
Here is Cook’s post-game interview: