Kentucky Edges Georgia 66-60

During the 2009-2010 season, Mark Fox’s first as Georgia’s basketball coach, the Bulldogs (14-6; 3-4) were forced to play a lot of zone defensive sets due to a lack of depth.  Coach Fox stressed that he preferred to play man-to-man, but he just didn’t have the personnel.

Before the start of this season, Coach Fox, on numerous occasions, expressed that this year’s team would play primarily man defense because of the bolstered bench support.

In Georgia’s 77-70 win over Kentucky earlier this month in Athens, the Dawgs used a physical man-to-man defense to frustrate the Wildcats offensively.

So why did Coach Fox have his team start the game on Saturday in a 3-2 zone?  And even further, why did he keep them in it for the entire first half (and chunks of the second)?

The strength of this Kentucky team is its perimeter shooting – they shoot 40% as a team from beyond the arc, which ranks 12th in the country.

In the first half on Saturday, Kentucky moved the ball around Georgia‘s zone, connecting on 6 of 12 from three-point range and building up a 39-24 halftime lead.  Freshman Doron Lamb, the Cats’ sharp-shooter/zone-buster, torched the Dawgs in the first half, knocking down 3 three’s en route to 11 points (he finished with a game-high 19 points).

Before the first media timeout, Georgia had already committed 3 turnovers and trailed 11-4.

During the game’s second half, Coach Fox got his team out of the zone and matched up with the Cats in a man defense.  After shooting 51.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc in the first half, Kentucky looked flustered offensively after the break, hitting only 31.8% of their field goal attempts.  The Cats followed up their 6 first-half three-pointers with a goose egg in the second, going 0 for 5 in their perimeter shot attempts.

Georgia fought and clawed till the end, and actually cut the Kentucky lead to 59-53 with 2:07 left following a Dustin Ware three-pointer.  On the next trip down the court, the Dawgs got a stop and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Trey Thompkins missed an open three-point look.  Kentucky’s Darius Miller got the rebound, got fouled, made two free throws and essentially sealed the game with the lead up to 61-53 with only a minute remaining.

The final score ended up 66-60 in Kentucky’s favor, and Georgia now finds themselves in the midst of their first two-game losing streak since dropping back-to-back games to Notre Dame and Temple back in 2010.

The missed three was a theme for Thompkins on Saturday, as he finished the game 0 for 5 from beyond the arc.  Trey only played 11 minutes in the game’s first half due to foul trouble, and he ended up with just 9 points on the day.  This was the first time this season that Thompkins failed to score in double-figures.

But misery loves company, and Georgia’s Travis Leslie wasn’t about to let his teammate struggle on offense all by himself.  Leslie was an icy 0 for 7 on field goal attempts Saturday, finishing with only 5 points.

The Dawgs are not going to win many games when their preseason All-SEC First Team players (Thompkins and Leslie) combine for just 14 points.

The only Georgia Bulldog that bothered to show up in Rupp Arena was junior Dustin Ware.  Ware led all Bulldog scorers with 18 points, and his 4 three-pointers were critical in keeping the game from becoming a blowout.

Georgia’s only other player to score in double-figures was junior Gerald Robinson, Jr., who contributed a quiet 12 points.  GR2 began conference play like a man possessed, averaging 18.0 ppg in his first five games.  In the last two games however, Robinson has looked tentative and reluctant to create, leading to just 19 total points.

The Dawgs are now anchoring the cellar in the SEC East with a 3-4 conference record.  At the SEC media days conference in October of 2010, Florida Coach Billy Donovan predicted that Georgia would win their side of the league.  At this point, with 5 of the remaining 9 games coming on the road, its starting to look like an 8-8 SEC record is more likely, with a 9-7 record being a “best-case scenario”.

Things don’t get any easier for Georgia, as they begin the week with a trip to Arkansas on Wednesday.  The Razorbacks are 4-3 in SEC play, and they are coming off a huge 89-78 victory in Nashville over Vanderbilt.  They dropped Tennessee at home 68-65 as well, so the Dawgs best not take them lightly.

Georgia gets Auburn at home on Saturday, so if they can collect themselves and get a win in Fayetteville Wednesday night, they have an opportunity to make this a big week.

The key word being “opportunity”.