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Dawgs seek balance in shooting 3s

ATHENS, Ga. -- For Georgia's guards, the upside to a rebuilding post game is they have more opportunities to score from the perimeter.

The downside is the Bulldogs' shooters have not been particularly accurate with those extra chances.

Entering Wednesday's game against rival Georgia Tech (4-4), the Bulldogs (4-4) are hitting only 29 percent of their 3-point tries while relying more on their perimeter game than last season and scoring less frequently from outside.

"This year we're taking more of them, not shooting as good of a percentage, and there's a great balance there. The key will be taking the right ones," said Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose team shot 34 percent from 3-point range last season. "We have to get our good shooters shooting the ball well again."

That starts with senior Dustin Ware, who was far and away the Bulldogs' top 3-point shooter a season ago.

Ware hit 44 percent of his 3-pointers last season (57-for-131), ranking fourth in the SEC, and that outside shooting prowess produced the game of his life in last season's win against Georgia Tech. Ware buried seven of nine 3-point attempts against the Yellow Jackets, including the game-winning shot with 18 seconds remaining in Georgia's 73-72 victory.

This season has been a different story, with Ware hitting 31 percent from 3-point range (12-for-39) and his fellow guards also slumping a bit from the perimeter in the early going.

That wouldn't be as much of a problem except that the Bulldogs lost reliable scoring punch with the departure of post men Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes, as well as swingman Travis Leslie. Without their presence in the paint, the Bulldogs' overall shooting percentage has dropped from 44 percent last season to 38 this year.

However, Ware said he and fellow guard Gerald Robinson feel a responsibility to score because they are veterans, not because they need to protect the developing youngsters in the post.

"I guess in a way the reason we'd feel a responsibility out there to produce is the fact that Gerald and I are seniors and we really have to," Ware said. "But I don't think there's any burden on us to feel that we have to hit a lot of 3s and make a lot of buckets.

"We still have a lot of good players in the post. Yeah, they're young, and they're developing, but they're going to be just fine. They've gotten so much better; and they're going to keep getting even better as the year goes on."

As they progress, Fox needs perimeter players like Ware, Sherrard Brantley -- who is shooting 19 percent from 3-point range after shooting 31 percent a year ago -- and freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (18-for-60, 30 percent) to find their shooting stroke.

"I think sometimes little details as far as shooting the ball can be a distraction when the game gets here," Brantley said. "Just being down and ready to shoot, kind of looking for shots in certain areas of the offense. Just stuff like that. But as the season goes on, we'll be fine."

Fox agrees. Because the Bulldogs are in the middle of a difficult pre-conference swing that includes consecutive games against California, Notre Dame, Xavier, Colorado, Cincinnati and now Georgia Tech, Fox's team has not enjoyed the luxury of breaking in new players against lightweight opposition.

As his players settle into their roles, Fox believes the Bulldogs will find a more natural inside-outside balance that best suits the team.

"With our schedule, it's not ideal to try to develop a young offensive team," Fox said. "We've just been so loaded up with strong teams here early that it's hard to really get a lot of confidence and rhythm offensively, but we'll get there."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.