Kentucky smothers Georgia 57-44 in Athens

Let me begin by stating that work in Atlanta sure does come early on Wednesday after attending a 9:00PM EST tip-off in Athens on Tuesday – I think my preference is for the 8:00PM start, though the ESPN coverage is nice publicity for the Georgia (10-10; 1-5) program.

The game last night was entertaining for the first 15 minutes when Georgia was going toe-to-toe with the best team in the country.  Freshman Nemanja Djurisic rang up 10 points with almost 9 minutes remaining in the first half on a pair of three’s and some inside buckets.  Nemi finished the game with those 10 though, joining senior Dustin Ware as the only other Bulldog to score in double-digits (Ware led the team with 12 points).

With all the firepower on Kentucky, I never would have guessed that senior reserve Darius Miller would have been the player to torch UGA last night.  Miller led all scorers with 19 points, including a 4 for 4 performance from beyond the arc on what were mostly uncontested three-point attempts.

Coach Mark Fox kept his team in a zone defense for the entire first half, enabling Miller and his teammates to enjoy a plethora of wide open looks from the wing position.  Kentucky responded by connecting on 6 of 10 threes before the break to open up a 38-26 halftime lead.

Fox finally moved his guys into a man defense for most of the second half and the Dawgs limited Kentucky to only 19 points on just 7 of 23 shooting from the floor.

The problem, however, was that the only thing worse than Kentucky’s offense after the break was Georgia’s – the Dawgs tallied up merely 18 points on 8 of 25 shooting on field goal attempts.

Give Kentucky some credit – they defended well last night.

But give Georgia some credit too – they put on one of the worst offensive displays I have seen this season in college basketball.  The Bulldogs shot a dismal 34.5% from the floor which certainly will not get it done against a team of Kentucky’s calibre.

Georgia’s two leading scorers – Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope – combined for just 13 total points and shot 24% on field goal attempts.  Again, offensive production like that from your team’s two best players will not work when the opposing team is Kentucky.

The entire second half was pretty much a sleeper due to extreme levels of futility from both school’s offenses.  The difference, however, was that the Kentucky players appeared to have mentally “checked out” of the game for the final 10 minutes while Georgia’s guys were still attempting to put the ball in the basket (though unsuccessfully).

The Dawgs have now lost all three of their “big” games at Stegeman this year against Cincinnati, Alabama and Kentucky.  In all three of those games Coach Fox almost stubbornly kept his team in a zone defense, enabling opposing team’s to burn Georgia from beyond the arc.  Against the Bulldogs, Cincy, Bama and the Cats all hit more three’s than they were averaging per game on the season.

I understand Georgia briefly using a zone to confuse opposing teams, but I do not understand abandoning the man defense altogether.  Good teams (Cincy, Bama, Kentucky, etc.) with good point guards ultimately start to break down zones to find wide open shooters on the wings and in the corners.

Another negative of playing primarily zone defense is that it makes it awfully hard for your team to find their block-out assignments and rebound.  The Dawgs are near the bottom of the SEC barrel in rebounding so the last thing that they need is to make the task of securing boards more challenging.

The Dawgs do not have a lot of team strengths to brag of this season, but I do feel like they play pretty good man-to-man.  Robinson has the athleticism to stick with just about any point guard, and KCP’s length and quick hands allow him to frustrate wing players.

The Bulldogs’ bigs are generally pretty useless on offense, but I think that they could hold their own in a man – at least Fox has 5 or 6 to sub in so they could afford to dish out some fouls.

Sorry for the soap box rant, but I’m getting tired of seeing our team put a position (permanent zone) against good teams where they are ultimately destined to fail.

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