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Net Gaines: Bulldog guard named SEC's best

Senior says he's not the only reason for recent offensive improvment

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 02/19/08

Athens - Georgia's Sundiata Gaines was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday, and a more deserving honor there has never been.

The senior point guard played every minute of the Bulldogs' last two games, scoring 50 points and totaling 17 rebounds, 12 assists and six steals for the Bulldogs (12-11, 3-7 SEC).

Swansey might warrant at least an asterisk when discussing Gaines' increased offensive production of late.

In the last three games, the freshman from Dunwoody has been Gaines' backcourt mate. A pure point guard by nature, Swansey's presence on the court has allowed Gaines to take on more of a shooting-guard, score-first mentality.

"He's definitely played a big role in how well I'm doing right now," said Gaines, who has averaged 27.3 points in the three games Swansey has started. "With him being able to run the point, at times I can play the two and I can be more of a scorer instead of thinking pass first. He's definitely helped out a lot and he's come a long way. He's gotten better as the games have gotten bigger."

Said Georgia coach Dennis Felton: "He's helped Sundiata a lot by relieving him of so much responsibility all the time. They're both basically playing 40 minutes a game and Zac is holding up very well. But Yata does so many things and expends energy all over the court as a result. Plus our opponents make him work so hard because they give him so much attention. So Zac's really helping Yata out."

As the Bulldogs prepare to face Kentucky Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, the challenge for Felton is figuring out how to maintain that symbiotic relationship while reintroducing Billy Humphrey to the lineup.

Humphrey was the Bulldogs' starting two-guard - and the team's leading scorer - before having to sit out the last three games on disciplinary suspension for an alcohol-related arrest. Felton won't discuss his starting lineup for the Wildcats but he did say he intends to play both players.

"It'll be interesting to see how Billy slides back into playing minutes," Felton said. "It will be nice to be able to add to our depth versus taking away from our depth. No doubt Zac is playing some good basketball and doing some good things for the good of our team.

Not playing anybody on Georgia's roster is not an option for Felton. While Humphrey returns, the Bulldogs lost forward Chris Barnes at least for this game and possibly for the rest of the season.

Barnes suffered at least a meniscus cartilage tear in his right knee in the second half of this past Saturday's game against Tennessee. It is the same knee Barnes injured at Riverdale High.

"He may be done for the season," Felton said. "We'll be determining that in the next few days. We won't have him [Tuesday night against Kentucky]. We'll just have to see how it turns out."

Meanwhile, Swansey is the big winner from the attrition battles the Bulldogs have endured this season.

Swansey showed up in Athens expecting to ease into his college career. Besides playing behind Gaines, a notorious minute-gobbler, Humphrey and Mike Mercer both were trained to run the point when Gaines was out of the game.

"I came in here with the idea of working hard every day and doing what I could to earn whatever minutes I could get while trying to learn from Yata," said Swansey, who's averaged 36 minutes the last three games. "I don't think anybody expects to come in their freshman year and play 37 or 40 minutes a game. I don't think there's that many people in the SEC that play many minutes. So it's definitely good."

Humphrey, for one, likes what he has seen from Swansey. He said he knew the Bulldogs had added a good basketball player long before Swansey started playing extended minutes.

"He proves it every day in practice," Humphrey said. "You've got to remember, he goes head-to-head against Yata every day. He's already being challenged offensively and defensively every time he steps on the court."

Swansey said he's unconcerned about how Humphrey's return might affect his playing time.

"I'm not sure and I'm not really worried about it," he said. "I'm going to leave that decision up to Coach Felton. We're glad to have Billy back. He's a big part of this team and a big-time leader."

Besides, the benefits Swansey has already gained from this season can't be take away.

"I know now that Coach Felton has confidence in," he said. "That's definitely a big confidence boost for me I can use the rest of this season and into next year."

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