Why Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday

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There’s a reason the Florida Gators entered Saturday’s game with the 3rd best defense in the SEC in league games, and it’s because Mike White does a great job of mixing up his defensive looks. For nearly the entire game, Florida showed the Dawgs (9-8, 1-4) a full-court zone press on any makes or turnovers that they transitioned into a little half-court trap. The Gators ran some man-to-man, and they occasionally showed some match-up zone.

All of these sets were highly-effective at keeping the Bulldogs off-balanced offensively. Other than the initial stretch of the second half, Georgia’s offensive resembled a game of “Hot Potato” for much of this one. The Dawgs committed 20 costly turnovers in this game that led to 28 Gator points.

Another tactic that Mike White used with his team in zone was that he had his guys double Nic Claxton any time he touched the ball inside. This strategy worked well for Florida and really frustrated Claxton, who had 0 points in the first half. The sophomore had as many turnovers (4) as field goal attempts by the time the teams went to the intermission. Claxton would finish with 9 points in a game in which he constantly had defenders swarming him whenever he received the ball on the block.

Has anyone else noticed that Georgia has been pressed relentlessly for the majority of SEC play? Expect this trend to continue as teams will seek to exploit UGA’s glaring weakness – its guards – until the season ends on either Wednesday or Thursday of the SEC tournament. If you watch college basketball other than Georgia games, notice how good teams do not get pressed that often because it puts too much pressure on the defense to guard in transition. For UGA, though, this is not the case.

There were two stretches of this game that were particularly brutal for Tom Crean’s team. The first was the beginning of the game, which Georgia started out with 4 turnovers and misses on all 6 of its field goal attempts. Florida had an 8-0 lead less than 5 minutes into this game, which they basically used as a buffer for the remainder of the half as they took a 33-23 advantage into the break.

The other portion of this contest that was particularly hard to watch occured, unfortunately, in the final quarter of the game. After a nice drive and lay-up by Jordan Harris with 9:38 remaining, the Dawgs went on a nearly six-and-a-half minute drought that included 6 turnovers; the bleeding was stopped when Nic Claxton hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-50 Florida with 3:11 remaining.

This offensive lull was such a bummer after the offensive fireworks that the Dawgs displayed coming out of the locker room. Georgia started the second half red hot and went on a 19-7 run that enabled them to take a brief lead, and it served to wake up a Stegeman crowd that hadn’t really been given much to cheer for in the game’s initial 20 minutes.

Obviously, a large part of UGA’s struggles since conference play began can be attributed to the backcourt. However, guard play is not the only issue with this Georgia team. UGA’s frontcourt has begun to look rather ordinary as the Dawgs have gotten deeper into the SEC slate, particularly Rayshaun Hammonds.

Florida coach Mike White road his star player, Kevaughn Allen, during the last five minutes of the game, and Allen answered the call as he scored 7 of his game-high 13 points. Hammonds, who is still UGA’s leading scorer at 13.7 ppg, was nowhere to be found. The sophomore put up a goose egg and committed 4 turnovers; other than a big second half against Vandy, Hammonds has basically been a no-show in SEC play, where he’s now averaging just 5.4 ppg. Rayshaun’s inability to step and be an offensive leader is putting additional, and unnecessary, pressure on the Georgia guards.

I continue to see the hashtag #TrustTheProcess in regards to the program on Twitter, and I most certainly do. I have full faith in Tom Crean as both an innovative offensive coach and an excellent recruiter who will take this program to a higher level. However, I feel that this season is more about giving Crean a break for the dearth of talent that Mark Fox left behind at the point guard position, which is making life really hard for UGA in conference play.

Box Score:

Examining Georgia & Florida by their SEC numbers

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Both Georgia (9-7, 1-3) and Florida (9-7, 1-3) will be looking to shake themselves out of a four-way tie for 9th in the conference when the teams lock up in Athens tomorrow. For UGA, the season thus far is going about as expected as the Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of league play. Florida, however, has been a bit of a disappointment considering the media predicted the Gators to be the 5th best team in the conference before the season began.

The only common opponent that these two teams share currently is Tennessee, who bested Florida 78-67 in Gainesville last weekend; however, that result was a heck of a lot more competitive than the 46-point drubbing the Dawgs took at the hands of the Vols in Knoxville earlier this month.

Now that we’ve transitioned to conference play, statistics in SEC games become far more insightful than cumulative season stats. At this point, I’m not interested in how Rayshaun Hammonds performs against a Savannah State, Sam Houston State, Illinois State or Texas Southern; his play against conference competition, which hasn’t been stellar thus far (6.7 ppg), is a much stronger measuring stick.

Without further adieu, here is how the Dawgs and Gators stack up numbers-wise through four SEC games:

Offense

  • Scoring offense: Florida 12th (65.2), Georgia 13th (64.8)
  • FG%: Georgia 12th (38.8%), Florida 14th (36.6%)
  • 3-Point%: Florida 9th (30.8%), Georgia 14th (24.5%)
  • 3-Point FG per game: Florida 3rd (9.3), Georgia 12th (6.3)
  • Turnover margin: Florida 1st (+4), Georgia 13th (-3.8)

Defense

  • Scoring defense: Florida 3rd (67.8), Georgia 11th (80.2)
  • FG% defense: Georgia 11th (44.7%), Florida 12th (45.4%)
  • 3-Point FG% defense: Georgia 12th (35.4%), Florida 14th (38.1%)
  • Rebounding margin: Florida 10th (-3.8), Georgia 13th (-6.8)
  • Blocked shots: Georgia 1st (6.5), Florida 12th (2.8)
  • Steals: Florida 7th (6.5), Georgia 10th (5.8)
  • Defensive Reb.%: Florida 7th (67.5%), Georgia 14th (61.5%)

Other than a few outliers, both of these teams are near the bottom of the SEC in more than a few important categories. Neither squad has been impressive offensively, though Florida’s team defense hasn’t been too shabby. Statistically, I’d say the Gators have a slight edge, but the fact that the game is in Athens should tip the scales in UGA’s favor a bit. In other words, I expect a competitive game tomorrow.

Some thoughts on Kentucky’s 69-49 rout of Georgia

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-7, 1-3) do not start many games off with 5 consecutive dunks. If someone had only watched the initial 5 minutes of this game and seen how the Dawgs built up their 11-6 lead over Kentucky, it would be hard to convince that individual that UGA would end up losing the game by 20 points. Georgia competed with the #12 Cats for 20 minutes, but then the magic ran out. Below are some of my thoughts:

Brutal second half for Georgia

The last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half are largely thought to be the two most important segments of a basketball game. The Dawgs excelled in the former, but they got totally Ashton Hagans-ized in the latter. The freshman, who scored a career-high 23 points, lit Georgia up out of the intermission as he scored 7 quick points and helped bolster the Cats’ 4-point lead to 42-31.

The Dawgs began the second half offensively by missing their first 5 shots and committing 3 turnovers. UGA didn’t notch a field goal until Rayshaun Hammonds got a tip-in with 14:35 remaining in the game. Georgia shot just 19% from the floor in the second half, and they made only 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.

Confusing offensive identity

As mentioned, the Dawgs jumped on Kentucky early and exploited some rather poor defensive rotations by Coach Calipari’s team to the tune of five two-handed dunks. Georgia scored 18 of its 31 points in the paint prior to the break, then the Dawgs scored just 18 points the entire second half. Despite making only 2 of 13 three-point attempts through the first 20 minutes, Georgia kept chucking them up after the intermission and finished the game just 4 of 27 from the perimeter. All of this was confounding considering how easily UGA was getting the ball into the teeth of the Kentucky defense early on; it definitely felt like the Dawgs sort of let the Cats off the hook defensively.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love Tom Crean’s commitment to shoot more three-pointers. That’s where the game has gone. Good teams get points consistently from beyond the arc, and it’s far past time that UGA join this fad. However, it’s just tough to watch right now because the Dawgs don’t have that many legitimate perimeter shooters.

Lack of star power for UGA

Georgia held Kentucky’s leading scorer Keldon Johnson, who nets nearly 16 points a night, in check in this one as he put up a goose egg. Unfortunately, UGA’s leading scorer, Rayshaun Hammonds, had another tough night; the sophomore went into the half with 0 points and 2 fouls after nearly 12 minutes of game time. Hammonds would finish with 11 points, but he never asserted himself into this game on the offensive side of the ball. Rayshaun’s struggles against ranked competition continued against #12 Kentucky, and he’s now averaging only 6.7 ppg in the three contests versus ranked SEC opponents.

Nic Claxton, who notched 9 points prior to the break, would net only 3 more the rest of the way. The Dawgs need more than 23 total points out of their leading scorers if they are going to pull an upset on a team of Kentucky’s calibre.

Coach Calipari had others on his team, namely Hagans, step up and shoulder the scoring load. Kentucky’s freshman point guard looks the part of a bona fide stud on both offense and defense, and he certainly got the last laugh inside Stegeman tonight after receiving a decent amount of heckling from the UGA student section.

Stats that jump off the box score:

  1. Kentucky had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 22.
  2. Kentucky had 43 rebounds to Georgia’s 35.
  3. Kentucky had 14 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 4.

Auburn too much for Georgia in 93-78 win

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 1-2) are going to continue to find the sledding fairly tough when they take on competition of the calibre of the #11 Auburn Tigers (12-3, 1-1), especially considering that Bruce Pearl has one of the best backcourts in the nation in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. It’s no secret: guard play is the glaring weakness of this UGA team. Harper and Brown had no trouble exploiting the Dawgs’ Achilles Heel as they combined for 37 points on a 7 for 13 shooting performance from the three-point line in the Tigers’ 93-78 win over Georgia.

Believe it or not, this game was actually close for several stretches. Georgia came out of the half and cut a 10-point Tiger lead to just a 54-48 advantage following a triple by Teshaun Hightower with 17:05 remaining. It didn’t take long for Auburn to stretch the lead back into double-digits, though, as Harper connected on one of his 4 three’s to send the Tigers up 61-48 with 15:27 remaining.

Georgia sort of hung around for the remainder of the game, and by that I mean they stayed within 10 points at times; but the Dawgs couldn’t trim the Tiger advantage to single digits the rest of the way, and Auburn continued to push the pace.

After trailing 13-4 early on in this one, Georgia went on an 8-0 run and actually took a brief 22-20 lead on a Jordan Harris three-pointer with 11:20 left in the first half. The referees called the game pretty tight from the opening tip, and that kept Bruce Pearl’s team from ramping up the game’s tempo, which definitely benefited Georgia.

The Dawgs were in the bonus for over 10 minutes in the first half of play. Georgia took advantage and made 8 of 9 free throws. However, UGA stopped attacking as much and started to settle for too many threes, which is not a good look for this Georgia team as they went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc before the break; the Dawgs hit just 3 of their last 14 field goal attempts heading into the intermission, and Auburn took a commanding 48-38 lead into the half.

Nic Claxton had consecutive possessions in the opening 20 minutes where he took Austin Wiley off the dribble and pulled up to knock down jumpers just inside the three-point line. Again, that’s a 6’11” center doing something that’s meant for a point guard. Insane.

Claxton finished with 15 points and tied his career-high 6 blocks. Auburn applied full-court pressure for most of the game, and Claxton routinely brought the ball up the court. While it is absolutely wonderful to have a center who can do this, I’m not certain it didn’t begin to wear the sophomore down as the game went on. In an ideal world, Georgia would have a guard or two that could handle this responsibility so that Claxton could spend more time in proximity to the rim.

The Tigers had 5 players end up in double-figures, but probably the biggest offensive spark came from reserve Anthony Mclemore, who scored 11 of his 15 points prior to the break. He was active on the glass and without the ball, and he really ignited an Auburn offense that started the game rather stagnant. When Mclemore entered the game, his team trailed 26-22 with a little over 10 minutes remaining; he was a major reason why Bruce Pearl’s team was able to take control of this game heading into the half.

Three tough stats that didn’t go Georgia’s way:

  1. Auburn outscored UGA 40-24 in the paint.
  2. Auburn notched 20 second-chance points to UGA’s 13.
  3. Auburn scored 21 points off of 16 UGA turnovers; the Dawgs had 15 POT themselves.

I hate to be a moral victory type of fan, but I found myself surprised that Georgia competed as much as they did in this one, especially considering what happened last Saturday in Knoxville. I certainly didn’t expect the Dawgs to have much of a lead, let alone for 5.5% of the game.

That being said, the struggle will continue to be real for Georgia whenever they face teams with above average backcourts. Unfortunately, I just described both of UGA’s opponents for next week: #18 Kentucky and Florida. Whoever designed this SEC slate for Tom Crean’s first jaunt through the league has a cruel sense of humor.

Tennessee smacks Georgia 96-50 in a forgettable SEC opener

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Tennessee’s (12-1) 46-point win over the Georgia Bulldogs (8-5) this afternoon in Knoxville marked the largest margin of victory in the series since 1975, when Bernard King buried 18 field goals in a 36-point win for the Vols. The fact that Georgia scored a season-low 50 points certainly helped Rick Barnes’s team notch this accomplishment.

Much like last year, Georgia’s guard play is once again its Achilles heel. The Dawgs have no one that can put a defender on his back feet, and that’s a serious problem; especially when playing an elite team like Tennessee. As strong as UGA’s bigs may be, they will struggle to find offense against stout defensive teams that can exploit the Georgia backcourt. Tennessee pushed the Georgia guards well beyond the three-point line, which forced the Dawgs to attempt to start the offense 30 feet from the basket. No bueno.

The first half of this game was basically a train wreck for Georgia. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in less than a minute to start the game. Not to be outdone, Nic Claxton tallied up 4 first half fouls and Rayshaun Hammonds picked up 3 himself. This trio had one more point (10) than total fouls before the break. Yikes.

Tennessee picked up Georgia full court on its first make in an effort to pressure the UGA guards and speed up Georgia’s offense. Let’s just say that Rick Barnes’s strategy worked out pretty well for his Volunteer team: UGA shot 33% from the floor and missed all 8 of its three-point attempts in the first half.

Georgia came out aggressive on defense to start this game by playing the Vols man-to-man. The foul trouble, however, forced Georgia to switch to zone, and Tennessee used the soft spots in that zone to heat up as they knocked down a barrage of mid-range jumpers. UGA’s defensive pressure seemed nonexistent as they forced Tennessee in to just 1 turnover in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Vols lit Georgia up from the field as they knocked down 57% of their shots, with stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combining for 28 points prior to the break. Tennessee scored 53 points in the first half, which is the most points they’ve scored in a game all season before the intermission, and they took a 29-point advantage into the locker room.

For anyone still interested, they did in fact play a second half in Knoxville. Even with the huge lead, Tennessee continued to play with a greater level of intensity than Georgia. Even though Coach Barnes went deep into his bench following the intermission, his team still managed to extend the lead in this contest. Frankly, Tennessee is so talented that I’m fairly confident that the Vols’ bench would play a competitive game with Georgia, and they could quite possibly win.

Some lopsided stats from this one:

*Tennessee outrebounded Georgia 45 to 30

*Tennessee had 25 assists to Georgia’s 8

*Tennessee’s bench outscored Georgia’s 37-19

*Tennessee scored 25 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 3

*Tennessee scored 48 points in the paint to Georgia’s 26

The best thing Georgia can do is flush this one and focus on the SEC home opener coming up Wednesday against Vanderbilt, a team that UGA should be more competitive with.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt if Tom Crean could land a graduate transfer point guard that could step in and start immediately next season.

Box score:

Dawgs end 2018 on a high note with a 91-72 win over UMass

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A year ago, UMass (7-6) bested Georgia (8-4) 72-62 in Amherst in a game in which the Minutemen hit 12 three-pointers. In that game, UMass blew the doors off UGA from the start and went into the intermission with a commanding 43-24 advantage.

Tom Crean’s team was having none of that business in Athens this evening. UMass hung around for a bit in the first half and kept things moderately close, but for the most part the Dawgs handled the Minutemen with relative ease in a game that Georgia led the entire way.

Georgia’s defensive pressure and length frustrated the Minutemen. Sure, Luwane Pipkins scored 22 points, but he shot just 7 of 20 from the floor, and he missed on all 8 of his three-point attempts. Pipkins scored 10 points prior to the intermission, and he looked as if he could get to the rim whenever he wanted. Turns out, however, it didn’t matter because he was the only player on UMass capable of threatening the Dawgs. Unlike last year’s game, UMass made only 4 triples against Georgia in this one, and they shot just 18% in doing so.

The Minutemen attempted to ramp up the tempo in the second half with some full-court pressure, but UGA seemed unphased as the Dawgs simply let their 6’11” center, Nicolas Claxton, bring the ball up the court. Problem solved. I’m still not really sure of the intent of the UMass press since it didn’t seem to affect the Dawgs in the slightest.

Georgia took a 43-32 lead into the half after Rayshaun Hammonds sunk an off-balanced triple from the corner with time winding down. After making less than 29% of this three-point attempts a year ago, Hammonds is now shooting over 46% from beyond the arc on the year. He definitely looks much more comfortable playing on the wing this year; too many possessions last season Hammonds was forced to work off the block, which may not be the most effective spot for him to receive the ball. Hammonds is definitely more a stretch 4 or even a 3 rather than a traditional big, and the sophomore looked the part this evening as he finished tonight’s game with 18 points to go along with 8 boards.

I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I cannot get over how much Nicolas Claxton continues to get better and better as the year progresses. As mentioned above, he’s now bringing the ball up on the press break. Claxton can guard every position on the court; he got isolated on Pipkins in the second half, and managed to not only keep the speedy point guard in front of him, but Claxton just went ahead and blocked his three-point attempt. The Slim Reaper led Georgia with 20 points and 11 rebounds en route to ANOTHER double-double (that’s 6 on the season), and he’s easily been the best player on the court in all three of UGA’s recent victories.

Georgia closes out 2018 with wins over Georgia Tech and UMass, and the Dawgs are really just one meltdown of a second half away from being on a six-game win streak. Claxton isn’t the only one improving; the Dawgs as a team are getting better. Like Hammonds, Tyree Crump is also converting more of his perimeter attempts this season. Today, Crump scored 14 points on a 3 for 5 effort from beyond the arc, and he is hitting over 40% of his three-point shots on the season.

UGA opens up SEC play this Saturday in Knoxville. With the start of the conference slate, everything is about to get more difficult for Georgia. Teams are going to apply tons of pressure to UGA’s backcourt in an effort to exploit the Dawgs’ lack of a true point guard. Georgia is going to struggle, but they are also going to surprise some people.

I’m super excited to see these potential matchups on Saturday: Grant Williams/Claxton and Admiral Schofield/Hammonds. A month ago, I would have assumed the Vols would blow Georgia out in this one. Now, I’m not so sure.

Dawgs upend Tech in Atlanta

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One week removed from its collapse at home to Arizona State, Georgia (7-4) appeared on the verge of gifting away another double-digit lead in Atlanta to archrival, Georgia Tech. With UGA leading by 4 and only 3:58 remaining, Nicolas Claxton snagged a miss by Teshaun Hightower and threw it down for two huge second chance points. Not to be outdone by himself, Claxton grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end before hitting a dagger from the wing that put the Dawgs up 9 with only 2:32 left.

The Jackets threatened one final comeback after Brandon Alston drilled a three-pointer to make it 57-51 UGA advantage with 2:10 remaining, but Tyree Crump diffused any hopes of a Tech run by knocking down a triple himself on the next possession for Georgia, and the Dawgs cruised to their 4th straight win over the Jackets with a 70-59 victory in Atlanta on Saturday.

The Dawgs’ defense stole the show this afternoon, though, as Georgia took Tech out of its offense time and time again. The Jackets looked ill-equipped to deal with UGA’s presence inside, as Nicolas Claxton blocked 6 shots and altered a dozen others. Tech shot under 27% in the first half and ended up at barely over 32% on the game. At the intermission, the Jackets had mustered just 19 points.

While Georgia’s bigs definitely redirected a plethora of Yellow Jacket shot attempts, a big defensive shoutout must go to Teshaun Hightower and the UGA guards for how they defended Tech’s leading scorer, Jose Alvarado. Alvarado, who entered this game netting over 14 a night, scored 11 points, but it took him a 3 of 20 shooting effort to get there. Hightower did an admiral job of staying in front of him all afternoon and forcing him into an array of challenging shots.

Tom Crean was brought to UGA to boost the offensive output, but today’s showing in Atlanta made it pretty clear that this team is slowly gaining a resolute defensive identity as well, and much of that starts with Claxton. The guy is simply everywhere on the court all at once. In addition to his half-dozen blocks, the sophomore also contributed 13 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Claxton’s ability to bring the ball up the court off of defensive rebounds helps to ramp up the tempo and effectiveness of Georgia’s offense; if he keeps up this level of play once the SEC slate begins in January, Claxton is going to be awful hard to keep off of the postseason All-SEC First Team.

In the grand scheme of the college basketball landscape, this game was fairly meaningless. Both of these squads were projected to finish 13th in their respective conferences. But within the state of Georgia, this game was a huge statement for Tom Crean in his first dip into the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate matchup. Moving forward, if the Dawgs can continue to learn how to close out games, this team will be a difficult out in the SEC.

Dawgs rebound with an 81-69 win over Oakland

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Just three days removed from the Arizona State game, a game in which Georgia (6-4) blew a 17-point lead, the Dawgs returned to action against much less formidable competition in the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The GG’s sputtered into Athens boasting a 4-7 record and an RPI of 262, AND they’ve replaced all five starters from a year ago, which makes them the third greenest team in college basketball.

Sometimes I struggle to come up with commentary on games that the Dawgs SHOULD win handedly; plus, as Jay Bilas commonly says on Twitter, “I gotta go to work”, so here are my quick takeaways from last night’s contest.

1 The most effective way to get a team out of a zone is to shoot the lights out, and UGA did just that during the first half on Tuesday night. Oakland switched into a 1-3-1 early, and the Dawgs took advantage from the perimeter as they hit 8 shots from beyond the arc prior to the intermission; Turtle Jackson led the way with 4 triples himself, and Tyree Crump chipped in a pair as well. I was shocked that Oakland coach Greg Kampe stubbornly kept his team in this defensive look for as long as he did, and Tom Crean’s team happily took the open looks and converted them into a 45-34 halftime advantage.

2 Coach Crean said after Saturday’s loss that his team has to learn to finish games, and after watching last night’s contest, apparently that’s still a work in progress. Oakland applied man pressure for much of the second half, and UGA’s shot selection started to become less favorable as the Dawgs made just 2 of 13 from the perimeter in the game’s final 20 minutes. Also, part of finishing games is actually having your starters on the court to finish them. Similarly to the game on Saturday, Derek Ogbeide missed significant time due to foul trouble (against ASU, Rayshaun Hammonds was on the bench for accumulating too many personal fouls as well). Ogbeide needs to be reminded of just how thin this team’s frontcourt is this year, and that it’s imperative that he be able to play more than 3 minutes following halftime. The Dawgs suffer defensively without their senior big on the floor, and last night was no different as Oakland’s Xavier-Hills Mais scored 13 of his 21 following intermission, and the GG’s made 6 triples due to UGA’s defense having to rotate and overcompensate for the weaker interior defenders.

3 Nicolas Claxton, who is becoming an absolute stat-stuffer, assumed the role of “Go-to guy” in the crucial final portion of this game. With a little under 5 minutes left, Georgia held a slim 66-64 advantage over Oakland, and this contest was nowhere near assured for UGA. Claxton asserted himself by establishing position in the paint, and the sophomore scored 5 points and snagged 2 boards in less than a minute. Teshaun Hightower chipped in a pair of buckets as well, and with 2 minutes left, UGA had a 76-64 lead that they would not relinquish. Claxton did not have his best shooting effort of the year (4 of 12), but he simply seems to be everywhere on the court: 17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal.

The Dawgs have a few days to chill before heading to Atlanta to take on rival Georgia Tech at high noon.

After opening up big halftime lead, Georgia loses heartbreaker to Arizona State

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Leads are not safe when it comes to Georgia Bulldog (5-4) athletics. Nicolas Claxton’s last-second attempt to tie the game drew nothing but air, and Arizona State snuck out of Athens with a 76-74 win in a game that they led for just a little over two minutes.

The Dawgs’ final possession was questionable, at best. I’m going to err on the side of Tom Crean and venture that he did not call a timeout to tell his team to inbounds the ball to Claxton so that he could go the length of the court against future NBA lottery pick Luguentz Dort.  Unfortunately, thought, that’s how it played out, and Georgia, not surprisingly, came up short in a game that it led by 14 points at halftime.

Georgia’s defense for the first twenty minutes was unrecognizable from anything we’ve seen from this team this year.  UGA’s guards stayed in front of the Sun Devil guards (for the most part), and everyone that Crean ran onto the court closed out with a sense of purpose on every ASU player that received the ball.  The Dawgs limited the Sun Devils to just 32% from the floor (just 16% from beyond the arc) in the first half. Luguentz Dort, who entered the game netting 22 a night, had only 5 points through the first 20 minutes of play.

UGA’s leading scorers – Rayshaun Hammonds, Nic Claxton and Tyree Crump – played superb from the start.  Hammonds hit a pair of triples, and he had the Sun Devils on their heels defensively as he attacked the basket and drew fouls.

Tyree Crump, who has been playing so much looser than in his previous two years in Athens, scored 16 points prior to the intermission.  Crump didn’t just hit three’s either, though he did knock down two; he also found points off the dribble and on cuts without the ball.

Claxton was simply the best player on the court in the first half as he scored 7 points, grabbed 10 boards and swatted 3 shots.  Claxton’s versatility makes him such a weapon for Tom Crean.  He can defend every position (he blocked two of Dort’s shots before the half), and he can bring the ball up the court immediately upon rebounding it, which really helped to ignite the tempo of this UGA team’s offense in half number one. 

Georgia went on a huge 12-3 run that included a triple from Tyree Crump and an athletic finish by Rayshaun Hammonds that bolstered UGA’s first half lead to 43-29 with a little over 2 minutes remaining before the break; the Dawgs would take a 47-33 advantage into the half.

Everything that went well in the first half failed to carry over to half number two, though. ASU opened up the second half with a 13-7 run that was fueled in part by 2 UGA turnovers.  After 5 minutes of play, the Sun Devils had cut the Dawgs’ double-digit halftime advantage to 54-46.   Georgia’s defense had no answer for Arizona State guard Remy Martin, who led all scorers with 21 points. Martin got into the paint whenever he wanted, and when he wasn’t driving, he was dropping the ball off to Romello White, who chipped in 16 points and seemed to have his way with the Georgia bigs inside.  ASU followed up its 32% first half performance from the floor with a much-improved 50% effort after the break.

One stat that will not show up in the box score that was devastating for Georgia was Arizona State’s ability to answer UGA three-pointers: ASU followed up three consecutive Georgia triples with a triple themselves in the second half, and that certainly aided their comeback effort and eventual win.

Foul trouble was a killer for UGA on Saturday night. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in the first 3 minutes of the game, which tested UGA’s frontcourt depth, or lack thereof, early. Anytime Mike Edwards is forced into playing additional minutes, one can assume that things are not going as planned for the Dawgs.  Ogbeide picked up his 4th foul less than 4 minutes into the second half, and Rayshaun Hammonds fouled out with over 4 minutes remaining in the game.

Crump, Hammonds and Claxton, who combined for 38 first-half points, scored a total of 9 points between them in the game’s final 20 minutes. Credit ASU coach Bobby Hurley for making the defensive adjustments necessary to take that trio completely out of rhythm.

Considering how large of a halftime lead Georgia held over this Sun Devil team at home, this loss feels tough. Maybe that’s because it came so close on the heels of the football team’s collapse against Bama in Atlanta two weeks ago. Who knows? 

However, the Dawgs’ effort in this game completely surpassed my expectations, and if you had told me this morning that Georgia would have the ball with a chance to tie or win at the end of the game I would have taken it in a heartbeat. This team IS getting better. If you don’t believe me, just rewatch the game against Georgia State last month in the Cayman Islands. The Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC before the season started, and after tonight, I would be shocked if Tom Crean’s team didn’t end up several spots higher than that initial forecast.

Hot-handed Georgia beats Texas Southern 92-75

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After coasting for the previous 20 minutes, the Georgia Bulldogs (5-3) saw their 25-point second half lead whittle down to a 78-66 advantage with a little over 5 minutes remaining following a 13-0 run by the Texas Southern Tigers (3-6). A game that seemed a forgone conclusion suddenly had become far more competitive than Tom Crean most likely preferred. Thankfully, Tyree Crump, who had his best shooting night as a Bulldog, buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to stop the bleeding and solidify the home win for the Dawgs. 

This win was a much-needed jolt of momentum for UGA as they head into a twelve day layoff due to final exams. Texas Southern was an NCAA tournament team a year ago after winning the SWAC, and they were projected to finish 2nd in the league this year.  The Tigers are now 3-6 on the season, but their schedule thus far has been brutal as Georgia marked the sixth Power 5 team that Texas Southern has played on the road, with wins at both Baylor and Oregon. Put simply, the Dawgs beat a team tonight that is better than its record indicates.

Georgia’s offense was clicking on Monday evening in Athens. UGA entered this contest connecting on just under 6 three’s a game, yet by the intermission the Dawgs had already hit that mark. The hot shooting from the perimeter, which must have come as a bit of a surprise to the Tigers considering UGA came into this game making less than 32% of its attempts from beyond the arc, took Texas Southern out of its defensive game plan.  The Tigers started the game in a zone in the hopes of forcing Georgia to beat them from outside, but the Dawgs’ efficiency from the perimeter forced the Tigers to extend its pressure, which resulted in a slew of easy scores for Georgia close to the bucket as UGA notched 24 of its 52 first-half points in the paint.

UGA’s proficient shooting extended into the second half as well as the Dawgs ended up with 11 three-pointers on the night, tying their season-high from the opener against Savannah State. Tyree Crump, who led all scorers with a career-high 25 points, was responsible for 5 of those triples. Crump did not start this game, but he nearly outscored a Texas Southern bench that was responsible for 26 points on the night. Georgia’s starting frontcourt is fairly solid; it’s the backcourt that remains a major question mark at this point in the season. In order for Georgia to live its best life, Crump needs to become a double-digit scorer for this team (like, starting now).

I realize that we haven’t scratched the surface of conference play, but UGA’s trio of starting lefty bigs seem legit.  Rayshaun Hammonds, Nicolas Claxton and Derek Ogbeide attacked the glass relentlessly this evening as they collected 27 boards between them; they were just a few rebounds shy of all ending the night with double-doubles (Ogbeide was the only one to secure that feat).  Georgia had 15 offensive rebounds which led to 21 second chance points.

Derek Ogbeide, who is averaging in double-figures for the first time in his career, looks a lot more comfortable in Crean’s offense. Personally, I much prefer him receiving the ball in the paint versus at the top of the key (where Fox generally had him as a set piece in his offense), and I’m guessing that he feels the same way. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia limited the Tigers to just 35% from the floor, which is below their season average.  Texas Southern’s leading scorer, Jalyn Patterson (15 ppg), was held to just 3 points on a forgetful 1 for 14 shooting performance from the floor. 

The Dawgs return to action on December 15th when they host the Arizona State Sun Devils, who are currently 7-0. Though, that could certainly change as they have a date with #6 Nevada later on this week.

Georgia blasts Kennesaw State 84-51 in Athens

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The Georgia Bulldogs (4-3) spent the majority of Tuesday night in the paint against the Kennesaw State Owls (1-7), where the Dawgs scored 57 of of their 84 points. Spoiler alert: Georgia won big.

However, Dawgs fans shouldn’t read too much into this game.  To put it delicately, Kennesaw State is an awful team.  The Owls, who were projected to finish 7th in the 9-team Atlantic Sun Conference, flew into Athens on the fumes of a 1-6 record.  Kennesaw State does not play much defense, and they don’t seem particularly interested in defensive rebounding; also, the Owls cannot shoot the ball very well as they struggled to convert just 27% of their shots from the floor. I have no doubt that this KSU team has what it takes to fulfill that preseason prophecy and end up near the gutter of the ASUN.

Georgia began the game with a turkey hangover, but eventually the Dawgs pushed their advantage to 22-11 at the 7:46 media timeout following an 8-0 run that was capped off by a layup by Teshaun Hightower on the break.  Georgia used multiple steals to start ramping up the tempo and extending the lead as they scored 16 first-half points off fast breaks.  Once the Dawgs began to push the pace a bit, the floor opened up, particularly for Tyree Crump, who buried 3 triples prior to the break, and Georgia had a 39-20 lead at the intermission.

Georgia took advantage of 10 Kennesaw State turnovers by converting them into 14 points before the half.  However, the Dawgs were careless with the basketball themselves as they committed 11 turnovers; Georgia was fortunate that the Owls couldn’t capitalize on those mistakes like Georgia State did in the Caymans.  UGA’s sloppiness with the basketball, which has certainly been a predominant trend of this young season, is particularly disconcerting because the Dawgs are literally just handing the ball over.  In both the Georgia State game and the first half against the Owls, the defense wasn’t doing anything special to affect UGA’s offense, so in theory, these turnovers shouldn’t really be happening at nearly this alarming of a rate.  

But all’s well that ends well as the Dawgs were able to use the second half as more or less a scrimmage.  Georgia cleaned up the ball security somewhat, committing just 5 turnovers after the intermission, and the Dawgs ended up with 20 team assists.  The star of the evening was Nicolas Claxton, who notched a double-double by scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 boards. Claxton has been racking up stats against the weaker opponents on UGA’s pre-SEC slate thus far. However, at some point the Dawgs are going to need him to be more effective against stiffer competition, which is on the horizon as Georgia has upcoming games with Arizona State and Georgia Tech just around the corner (not to mention the start of SEC play).

Sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds contributed 14 points himself, which is just about at his season average of 14.5 ppg, and he did all of this damage in just 23 minutes of play. Hammonds just seems to be quietly going about his business and scoring in double-figures night in, night out. Honestly, I’d like to see him assert himself even more on offense as I feel confident that he is this team’s most skilled weapon on that end of the court.

It’s hard to say how well Georgia defended this Owl team since putting the ball in the basket has been quite the challenge for KSU so far this season (35% on FG). The Dawgs did limit Tyler Hooker, who came into tonight’s contest netting nearly 20 ppg, to just 11 points on a dismal 5 for 19 shooting performance.  The Owls certainly made life easy on Georgia on the defensive side as KSU hit just 1 of the 15 shots they attempted from beyond the arc.

UGA doesn’t return to the court again until Monday when they take on a tough Texas Southern team that is far better than its 2-4 record implies.  The Tigers are coached by former LSU skipper Johnny Jones, and they have multiple Power 5 transfers on their roster this year.  Texas Southern has already beat both Baylor and #18 Oregon, and they’ve lost games to Iowa State, Gonzaga and San Diego State; they play Arizona State this Saturday.  All of those contests were (and will be) on the road, so traveling to Athens will not do much to intimidate this road-tested squad.

Tom Crean probably won’t take much solace from tonight’s win, and he’d better have his team prepared for a better fight next Monday.

Box Score:

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Newsflash: UGA is not the best basketball team in the state

The Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia State Panthers played a second half on Wednesday, though it wasn’t really necessary.  The Panthers took 3rd place in the Cayman Classic with a 91-67 thrashing of UGA, but Ron Hunter’s team won this one well before intermission.

The Dawgs committed 15 of their 18 turnovers in the first half, and those mishaps led to 17 points for Georgia State before the break. The most astonishing thing regarding Georgia’s offensive sloppiness was that State wasn’t doing anything special on defense to create pressure: no press, no halfcourt trap, no extended man.  UGA, rather, just didn’t value the basketball, and that, coupled with some atrocious man defense, resulted in Georgia trailing GSU 51-32 at the half.

Georgia’s defense at the moment can be described as discombobulated at best.  Against the Panthers, the Dawgs looked completely lost.  They didn’t communicate on ball screens.  The UGA guards cannot stay in front of anyone, and there doesn’t seem to be any recognition of where the other team’s shooters are on the court.

Georgia State hit 8 triples in the first half, and they shot over 54% from the floor.  Malik Benlevi, who’s been a 40% shooter from beyond the arc the past two seasons, knocked down 5 of his game-high 8 threes prior to the break.  Allowing an opposing player to make 8 three-pointers in a game is simply inexcusable. Jeff Thomas, another near-40% efficient three-point shooter, hit three himself before halftime.  Tom Crean’s voice must have sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher when he was going over scouting for the Panthers because the Dawgs were utterly baffled as to how to defend GSU. 

I realize it’s a rebuilding year.  Tom Crean WILL improve this program because he’s been proven to be an effective recruiter.  At the moment, his offense doesn’t look so hot, but that’s more a matter of a lack of personnel than a knock against Crean’s tutelage.  The Dawgs are shooting a decent number of three-pointers like he promised, but they’re just not making many of them – UGA is 31% on the year from the perimeter, and they made just 5 of 18 today against Georgia State.  The offensive woes, however, are forgivable (for now).

The confusion and lack of effort on defense, though, is something that cannot be pardoned.  The Dawgs played 12 guys for much of the afternoon, so there’s no reason for anyone to feel fatigued.  Georgia’s players should be coming into the game with a much greater level of defensive intensity, especially considering that they will probably play less than 20 minutes of the entire game.  All five of Georgia State’s starters finished in double-figures, with Benlevi leading the way with 24 points.

Today’s game against Georgia State was about pride, and UGA didn’t show much of it.  Even though the Panthers were pegged to win the Sun Belt, the Dawgs have to be more competitive against the smaller school from Atlanta. 

Georgia has games on the horizon against both Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech, and it’s going to be interesting to see where UGA ends up in the pecking order in regards to the state of Georgia’s basketball rankings.

Box Score

Temple hands Georgia its first loss of the season

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Derek Ogbeide’s turnaround hook with 7 seconds left was just a tad long, which allowed Temple to secure the rebound and eventually bury a pair of free throws to seal the 81-77 home win, their third of the season. The fact that the Dawgs (1-1) even had the ball with a chance to win at the end of this game was nothing short of miraculous considering that they trailed the Owls for the majority of the contest.  I mean, UGA fell behind Temple 77-70 with 2:25 left after Quinton Rose hit what appeared to be a dagger as the shot clock nearly expired.  Georgia’s effort in this one should give fans optimism of what this season could hold if the Dawgs can show improvement on both sides of the ball.

To be fair to Tyree Crump, though, a big reason why Georgia even found itself in a position to win was because of the junior’s offensive explosion that came on toward the end of the second half. Crump scored 10 of his 16 points over the final 5 minutes of the game. He’s definitely looking more comfortable in Crean’s offense compared to how he’s appeared in his previous two seasons with the Dawgs.  Crump hit a pair of threes, but he also scored multiple buckets around the rim off drives, which is a part of his repertoire that we’ve yet to really see from him.

While Ogbeide came up short (technically long) at the end for Georgia, his play throughout this game enabled the Dawgs to keep within striking distance of the Owls.  The Georgia senior tallied his first double-double of the season, netting 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds.  Ogbeide’s upper-body strength caused problems for the Owls inside as the senior repeatedly drew contact and finished around the basket.  

The same problems that plagued the Dawgs in the opener against Savannah State reared their ugly head again tonight in Philadelphia.  For starters, Georgia gave the ball away 20 times, and those turnovers led to 22 Temple points.  That makes UGA 2 for 2 on the year in coughing the ball up 20 times in a contest. Georgia’s ball security didn’t hurt them as bad against overmatched Savannah State, but it crippled the Dawgs this evening.  When a team loses by just 4 points on the road, it’s really hard not to look at those turnovers and wonder what might have been if that total had been just 5 less.  I realize that turnovers are going to happen with this team, especially considering the tempo that Tom Crean wants for his offense.  But the pace of this game didn’t cause the turnovers this evening; most of them can be attributed to just plain sloppiness. 

Also, much like in the Savannah State game, Georgia did not play strong enough defense on the perimeter.  Temple’s Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston each went for 25 points, and guard Nate Pierre-Louis added 16 himself.  The Owls’ stars moved the ball into the teeth of the UGA defense with ease, which led to both Nicolas Claxton and Rayshaun Hammonds playing in foul trouble for much of the game (Hammonds fouled out in the final seconds of play).  Georgia’s backcourt has to do a better job of staying in front of opponents so as to protect the bigs inside defensively.  Hammonds, who buried a clutch three-pointer to cut the lead to 79-77 with 27 seconds remaining, scored 13 points in just 17 minutes of play.  If the Dawgs are going to win on the road, they need Hammonds on the court.

The biggest surprise of the night statistically had to be that Georgia outscored Temple in the paint 42-30, and that the Dawgs took just 10 shots from beyond the arc.  At the half, Georgia had attempted only 3 three-pointers. This shot selection varied tremendously from the opener in which UGA put up 27 attempts from the perimeter.  

Tom Crean’s team got its first taste of real competition tonight, and they weren’t quite ready.  However, considering that this was just the second game for a team that is playing in a new system for a new coach, the end result wasn’t all negative (not to mention that Georgia had to fly up for the game TODAY due to technical difficulties with the plane). The real test for UGA will be how much they improve as the season progresses, which was something that Mark Fox teams struggled to do in the latter part of his tenure as the Dawgs’ head coach.

On a personal note, I’m going to be traveling and running a 30-kilometer race in Moab, Utah over the first half of Thanksgiving, so I’ll be following the games via my phone for the next few contests leading up to the holiday tournament in Grand Cayman.

Bulldogs earn first SEC win of the season with home blowout of Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew switched his team into a zone defense for the first time all game less than 5 minutes into the second half with the Commodores (9-5) trailing Georgia (9-5) 45-39. Inexplicably, Drew kept his team in this look for nearly the rest of the way, and Bulldog coach Tom Crean could not have been happier. After shooting just 2 of 12 from the perimeter in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Dawgs knocked down 7 of 14 three-point attempts in the second half and cruised to an 82-63 victory.

To be clear: this was just a one-point game at halftime, in Georgia’s favor. Typically, when a team begins to heat up from the outside, as UGA did on Wednesday, the opposing squad switches back into a man look. I’m not sure why Bryce Drew didn’t follow suit.

A huge contributor to UGA’s dominant second-half performance was sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds, who scored all 19 of his team-high points after the break. Rayshaun Hammonds started slow again after getting blanked against Tennessee in the SEC opener. The sophomore missed all four of his first-half field goal attempts as he looked out of sorts offensively to begin this one. Hammonds woke up quickly out of the intermission, however, as he scored 7 points before even 4 minutes had elapsed.

Teshaun Hightower provided a surprisingly productive 21 minutes for coach Crean, particularly in the first half. Hightower asserted himself more on offense as he made repeated concerted efforts to drive the ball at the rim, which resulted in 8 first half points to go along with 4 boards; the sophomore would finish with 11 points in the game. Of all the Georgia guards, Hightower is definitely the strongest candidate to take on the role of a legitimate point guard that can put some pressure on opposing defenses.

Defensively, the Dawgs did a great job of shutting down Vandy’s star point guard Saben Lee in the game’s second half. Lee gave Georgia fits prior to the break as he scored 10 points, with many of them coming near or at the rim. The UGA guards did a much better job of staying in front of him after the break, and they managed to limit Lee to just 2 second-half points.

Georgia definitely started this contest playing faster than it did last weekend in Knoxville against the Vols. The quicker pace created a helter skelter tempo early in the game that resulted in some sloppiness from both teams – Vandy had 7 turnovers in the first half to Georgia’s 8 giveaways; the Dores converted the UGA turnovers into 14 points prior to the intermission. The Dawgs quickly saw a 14-6 advantage turn into a 19-14 Vandy lead with a little over 11 minutes left in the half; Georgia had 4 turnovers during this stretch. Credit Tom Crean for settling his team down in the second half, where UGA committed just 4 more turnovers the rest of the way.

Georgia showed a lot of resilience in it win over Vandy on Wednesday night, especially considering the thrashing that the Dawgs received last weekend against Tennessee. Getting the conference win was absolutely crucial tonight as the Dawgs have a much taller task on Saturday when they travel to the Plains to take on the #11 Auburn Tigers.

Box Score:

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