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Defense in focus for Missouri, Georgia in SEC opener

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Missouri and Georgia head into their Southeastern Conference opener with momentum, wrapping up nonconference play with lopsided wins.

But something will have to give when Missouri (8-5) hosts Georgia (10-3) Saturday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri defeated Central Arkansas 92-59 in its previous game.

“Going into this game we wanted to end the year the right way so we can have a good carryover to SEC play,” Tiger guard Tamar Bates said. “The way we ended the year and won was on the defensive end. That was a lot of the emphasis this week in practice. In the SEC we’ll have to win in different ways.”

Georgia handled Alabama A&M 93-73 in its final tune-up before starting SEC play. The Bulldogs have started 10-3 or better in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.

“Overall, our defensive efficiency has just steadily improved in these first 13,” Bulldogs coach Mike White said. “Tonight was our best rebounding night offensively, at least in a long time. And I thought we defended the glass really well only giving up six (offensive rebounds), which is a positive for us.

“(We) continued to shoot it better from three throughout the season, but we have to have a bunch of those nights in league play to be competitive. Got to get better on the offensive glass. Got to get better at transition defense.”

Missouri is led by guard Sean East II, who averages 17.1 points and 3.5 assists. Forward Noah Carter (11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) and guard Nick Honor (11.3 points per game) have been the other consistent starters.

Bates, who scored a career-high 25 points against Central Arkansas, has emerged as another primary scorer. He scored 57 points in his last three games.

Guards Jabri Abdur-Rahim (13.2 points per game) and Noah Thomasson (12.3 points per game) are leading Georgia’s offensive attack. The Bulldogs have gotten stronger inside with the return of 6-foot-8 RJ Sunahara, who had been limited to nine games due to injury.

–Field Level Media

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