Well, the drive up I-85 into the Queen City on Friday was a lot more fun than the drive home today.
The first half of the game against Washington seemed eerily similar to the first half of the game against Alabama in the second round of the conference tournament. In both games, Georgia had an opponent struggling to find offense, yet the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize and create any significant separation on the scoreboard.
Last night, Washington went through a near nine-minute span in which they mustered just one field goal. Georgia, however, was unable to step on the accelerator, and following a jumper by Scott Suggs the Huskies were only down 23-18 with 3:53 left before the half.
Washington started to figure out the Dawgs‘ zone defense near the end of the first half, and after a 12-5 Huskie run the teams went into intermission knotted-up at 28 apiece.
Coming out of the break, the Huskies looked like a completely different team than the one that played the first 20 minutes. Washington’s pressure on their man defense was ferocious, forcing Georgia to start its offense from well beyond the perimeter – the Huskies nearly pressed the Dawgs into consecutive shot clock violations. I honestly don’t recall the Dawgs facing a more intense half court defense all season.
Unfortunately for Georgia, Washington’s improved second-half defense was matched by some improved offense as well. The Huskies knocked down 7 of their first 10 field goal attempts in the opening nine minutes after the break. After shooting just 35.3% from the field in the first half, Washington connected on nearly 54% of their shots from the floor after intermission.
The Huskies star guard, Isiah Thomas, scored 17 of his 19 points in the game’s second half – he seemed unguardable at times.
This nine minute stretch that extended the Washington lead to 49-39 with only 11:15 left nearly closed the door on Georgia.
I say nearly because as many of you already know, this team has not quit when they have been down this season, and last night was no different.
The Bulldogs fought and clawed and were down by just 2 points with 7 seconds left following a Trey Thompkins three-pointer – Trey played great by the way, leading his team with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
After a missed free throw by Washington’s C.J. Wilcox, the Dawgs’ Travis Leslie launched a last-second three that would have sent the game into overtime – but fate had other plans as the shot came up short.
It’s funny, but I think my favorite moment of this entire season came just minutes after it ended.
Time Warner Arena was not nearly close to capacity for the Georgia-Washington game last night, but there were a good number of very-spirited Bulldog fans in attendance.
After the final horn had sounded and the teams began exiting the court, the entire UGA fan base, in an act of pure class, rose from their seats and gave this Georgia basketball team a standing ovation. The Bulldog fans recognized that these 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids had poured everything they had into this season and into getting to this NCAA tournament game, and they rewarded them with applause.
Mark Fox and this group of players have transformed Georgia basketball from a perennial loser into a relevant SEC program – and in just two years!
The Bulldogs earned an at-large bid to the this year’s NCAA tournament, and proved last night that they belonged.
Georgia beat the SEC Tournament Champion Kentucky Wildcats earlier this year – a team that just advanced to the Sweet 16 of this tournament following their win over West Virginia earlier this afternoon. The Dawgs took both the Big East regular season runner-up (Notre Dame) and the SEC regular season champion (Florida) to double-overtime.
Even though the Bulldogs came up just a little short last night against the Huskies, it was still extremely cool to see them participating in the NCAA’s, and I think we should all be proud of what these guys accomplished this season.