Dawgs get #1 Kentucky on Thursday (9pm)

On Thursday night the Georgia Bulldogs (13-15; 4-10) will travel to Lexington to take on the #1 Kentucky Wildcats, who will be celebrating a time-honored college tradition that is sure to die out under the reigns of Coach Calipari – “Senior Night”.  While Coach Cal is running the show, the Wildcat basketball program may want to consider changing this event to “Sophomore Night” as it would be much more relevant to Cal’s teams.

This Kentucky squad features two seniors, Elloy Vargus (rarely used) and Darius Miller, who torched the Bulldogs for 19 points in Athens back in late January.

At 6’8″ tall, Miller is a mismatch-making machine at the guard position.  His 19 points against UGA mark his best offensive output of the season in a conference game, and 12 of those points came from beyond the arc (where he was a perfect 4 for 4).

Kentucky is 14-0 in SEC play and 28-1 overall, making them nearly flawless.  The Wildcats lead the conference in both scoring offense (74.4 ppg) and scoring defense (58.9 ppg), and they have the best player in the country in freshman Anthony Davis – probably why they opened up the betting lines as a whopping 21-point favorite over the UGA Dawgs.

Davis has all but locked up SEC Player of the Year honors, averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and over 5 blocks per league game.

Before totally dismissing the Bulldogs‘ chances in this game and chalking it up as a Kentucky blowout, it should be noted that Georgia actually held a 14-11 advantage over the Cats with 12:55 left in the first half  when these two teams met earlier in Athens.  Unfortunately, Kentucky began exploiting Georgia’s zone rotation by knocking down perimeter threes, allowing them to open up a 38-26 halftime lead (one that UGA could never overcome).

The Dawgs went on to lose to the Cats 57-44 in that game, but Georgia did manage to stay within one point of Kentucky in the second-half scoring, largely in part due to a shift to man defense combined with a lack of Wildcat player focus/interest on offense.

Coach Mark Fox faces no easy task in trying to decide how he wants his team to defend the scoring behemoth that is Kentucky.  He could play zone, which would take pressure off of the Georgia bigs in trying to deal with Davis and Miller.  However, Kentucky is a great shooting team that makes nearly 40% of its three-pointers, making zone defense very risky as it could yield a lot of perimeter points.

Should the Bulldogs attack the Cats with a man defense, that would certainly help them match-up better on the outside, but it might leave the Dawgs vulnerable on the inside against the Kentucky bigs.

Georgia notched a 90-85 win at Rupp Arena three years ago on a Senior Night behind 30 points from Terrance Woodbury (Dustin Ware had 18).  In that game, Georgia was on fire from beyond the arc, knocking down 11 of their 16 attempts.

If UGA hopes to keep the game this year close a similar shooting effort will be required.

I recently corresponded with Mike Scullin – owner of the website NIT-ology – who still has Georgia on the “NIT bubble” following last week’s upset of then-ranked #12 Florida.  Scullin had this to say about what UGA needed to accomplish to get into this year’s NIT Tournament:

“At this point, Georgia is likely going to have to find a way to get to .500 following the SEC tournament in order to have a shot at an NIT bid. While the NIT lifted the official requirement for teams to be at least .500 to garner an at large bid years ago, there still have been no below .500 teams selected to date. At this point, it would probably take beating Kentucky and South Carolina and winning the first round in the SEC tournament to do it, which is an awfully tall order. This would give Georgia a 16-16 record with an RPI around 87, which I can confidently say would get them in.”

Beating Kentucky alone certainly sounds like a “tall order”, but considering this Georgia team’s knack for winning games they probably shouldn’t have this season – #18 Notre Dame, Mississippi State and #16 Florida – can you really say it’s totally out of the realm of possibilities?

Donte Williams’ importance and a quick look at future Bulldog Kenny Gaines

The significance of Donte Williams

Sophomore Donte Williams has grown tremendously as a player for Coach Mark Fox since setting foot on the UGA campus last season.  This year, Williams has established himself as Georgia’s most consistent offensive and defensive weapon in the paint, and he is currently 8th in the SEC in blocked shots at 1.8 per contest.  In Saturday’s huge upset of the then-ranked #12 Florida Gators, Williams set a personal best with 6 blocked shots.

Donte clearly has the mentality of a shot-blocker, making his best effort to swat anything near the rim.  However, Williams has found himself in quite a lot of foul trouble this season, which is common for aggressive post defenders.  When Williams has gotten himself into the foul trouble this year, his Georgia team has suffered mightily.

The Dawgs are just 2-10 in games this season in which Williams commits 4 or more fouls.  Conversely, UGA’s record is 11-5 when he only manages to pick up 3 or less fouls.

A similar trend can be found in conference games as well, with Georgia going just 1-7 in games when Donte commits 4 or more fouls, compared to their 3-3 record in games that see him get 3 or less personals.

The Bulldogs definitely need Donte Williams to block shots, but they need him on the court more than anything with their lack of inside depth.

Kenny Gaines preview

Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to catch the first quarter of the Region 9A tournament finals between Whitfield Academy and Landmark Christian.  The star player on Whitfield is one Kenny Gaines, who signed a letter of intent back in November to play basketball for Coach Mark Fox in Athens.

I actually saw Gaines play once last season in a rivalry game at Paideia High School – he went for 20 points in his team’s victory.

Watching Gaines warm-up before the Region Championship game last Saturday, I immediately noticed his smooth perimeter jumper; he must have made well over 50% of his warm-up three pointers.  Gaines, who is listed at 6’3″, already has a strong upper body, which enables him to shoot the ball rather effortlessly from long-range.

Once the game started, the “Kenny Gaines Show” really began.  Gaines had three dunks in the first quarter, with one of them being particularly monstrous – he drove baseline and then proceeded to take off on two feet from just inside the lane, flushing the ball down on the Landmark defender.

Defensively, Gaines is equally tenacious, using his athleticism to hound the opposing Landmark guards.  He did a great job of maintaining a low defensive stance, and I don’t recall anyone that he guarded scoring in the first 8 minutes of the game.

If you could somehow take Travis Leslie’s frame along with most of his athleticism, and then throw in Dustin Ware’s outside shot, the end result would be something similar to Kenny Gaines.

Needless to say, I am very excited about what this kid will bring to the table for the Dawgs next season.

Dawgs hold lead for nearly entire game, beat Gators 76-62

The Georgia Bulldogs (13-15; 4-10) knocked off another ranked team on Saturday, besting the #12 Florida Gators in Athens 76-62 inside Stegeman Coliseum.

The Dawgs held a double-digit lead for much of the second half until the wheels appeared to be coming off for Coach Mark Fox’s team in the closing minutes of the game.  Following a Kenny Boynton three-pointer, the Gators had cut the Georgia lead to only 67-62 with just 1:53 remaining.

On the Bulldogs‘ ensuing possession, Georgia held the ball for nearly 30 seconds before Gerald Robinson, Jr. made a move towards the basket.  Robinson, however, lost the ball off on a deflected pass, which eventually ended up near the half court line.  Fortunately for Georgia, Florida’s Bradley Beal fouled Dustin Ware as he was going for the ball with only a few ticks left on the shot clock.  Ware calmly stepped up to the free throw line and buried both shots, putting his team up by three possessions at 69-62.

If Beal doesn’t foul Ware on that play, Georgia most surely turns the ball over on the expired shot clock, giving Florida the ball with a chance to cut the game down to one possession.

This moment was definitely a critical part in the game, but for the most part the afternoon belonged to UGA.  The Gators never held a lead in this game, shooting a dismal 36.7% from the floor and scoring only 62 points (nearly 9 below their conference average).

The Dawgs played inspired defense for the full 40 minutes, holding Florida to just 5 three-pointers on 23 attempts.

Offensively, it seemed as if Georgia could do no wrong.  The Bulldogs shot nearly 53% from the field, making big shot after big shot.  It felt as though every time the Gators started to edge closer, Dustin Ware would hit a step-back three or Neme Djurisic would get a stick-back lay-up.

The Bulldogs saw five players reach double-figures today, with Kentavious-Caldwell Pope leading the charge with 18 points.

Gerald Robinson played one of his best games ever as a Bulldog (in my opinion), scoring 15 points and dishing out a game-high 7 assists.  Robinson ignited the offense this afternoon, providing resilient leadership on the court against a highly-ranked SEC opponent.

On the block, Neme Djurisic and Donte Williams stepped up and scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.  Neme finished with a team-high 7 boards and Williams blocked 6 – yes 6 – Florida shots.  The Georgia bigs also showed up on the defensive end as well, holding Patrick Young and Erik Murphy to just 10 combined points.

Last, but certainly not least, I have to throw a big-time bone to senior Dustin Ware, who scored 11 points to go along with 6 assists.  Ware started the game on the bench due to his recent offensive woes, yet once the ball tipped off he transformed back into the solid contributor that he has been throughout his career as a Bulldog.

Ware canned a monster step-back three-pointer with 7:42 left in the game that ended a 7-0 Florida run, extending the Georgia lead back out to 61-49.  He also forced a steal and made 5 of 6 free throw attempts in the games final 3 minutes, playing a critical role in helping his team close out the victory.

I also have to give a lot of credit to Coach Fox and the Georgia coaching staff.  In the last 10 minutes of this contest the Bulldogs did an excellent job maximizing the shot clock, which in turn limited the number of Florida offensive possessions.

For me personally, the best part of the day came towards the end of the game when all the loud and boisterous Florida fans began an early mass exodus of Stegeman Coliseum before the final horn sounded.

This Georgia team continues to remain somewhat of an enigma with surprising wins over teams like Florida, Notre Dame and Mississippi State, and disappointing losses to Auburn and South Carolina.

The Dawgs conference record improves to 4-10 following the win over Florida, pitting them in a tie with the Auburn Tigers for 10th in the conference.   Auburn has remaining games at Alabama and then against LSU – they could easily lose both – meaning that if Georgia could knock off South Carolina at home next weekend they would secure the 10-seed in the conference tournament.  This would match the Dawgs up with either Arkansas, Missy State, Ole Miss or even LSU – all of which are winnable games for UGA.

I know that I promised after the Vanderbilt game not to mention the NIT Tournament again this season, but if Georgia could muster a couple of wins in the conference tournament – might they receive a selection?

Georgia gets #12 Florida in Athens today at 4:00PM

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-15; 3-10) relationship with the #12 Florida Gators on the hard court is beginning to become eerily similar to the connection that the Dawgs share with the Gators on the football field (in that Florida wins nearly every time).

The Bulldogs have dropped 15 of the last 17 basketball games to Florida, making this match-up particularly one-sided.

According to the odds makers in Las Vegas, who slotted the Gators as an 8-point favorite, this trend of Florida domination should continue today in Stegeman.

Coach Billy Donovan’s Gators have been an offensive juggernaut in SEC play this season, scoring over 70 points per contest.  Florida has been especially strong from beyond the arc, where they are connecting on 38.1% of their attempts and making a league-leading 9.2 three-pointers per game.

The Gators may have the most complete backcourt in the country, led by junior Kenny Boynton, freshman Bradley Beal and senior Erving Walker.  All three members of this guard trio are netting double-digits on a nightly basis in conference play, with Boynton and Beal leading the way with 15.4 ppg and 14.6 ppg, respectively.  Boynton, who is enjoying his best season yet as a Gator, has made over 40% of this three-point attempts in league games this year.

Coach Mark Fox’s Bulldog team needs to defend the perimeter well this afternoon in an effort to limit Florida’s backcourt from lighting them up.  Fortunately, three-point defense has been somewhat of a strength for this Georgia team as they have held opposing SEC squads to under 33% on threes, ranking them 5th in the conference in that category.

Florida won the first contest between these two teams back in early January, burying Georgia 70-48 in the O’Connell Center.  In that game, the Dawgs held Florida to 7 of 21 shooting from beyond the arc and matched the Gators with 31 rebounds.  Just hearing those two statistics might leave Bulldog fans wondering how Georgia lost by so many points.

The big difference in that game came at the free throw line, where Georgia went an unsightly 1 for 9, while Florida canned 15 of 18 attempts.

One unfortunate symptom that has emerged this year, resulting from Georgia’s lack of an inside game, is that the Bulldogs are not getting to the charity stripe.  In the entire Division I of the NCAA there are only 23 teams out of 337 that are attempting less free throws than Georgia.

In SEC play, the Dawgs are only tossing up 14 free throws per game, pitting them at 11th in the conference (just above South Carolina).  To make matters worse, when Georgia does get to the line they are only making 68% of their attempts, which is 9th in the SEC.

I’m not sure if there is a cure for the Dawgs this season in regards to getting more free throw attempts, but hopefully it will be a major focal point for the UGA bigs in the off-season.

The recipe for a Georgia upset today lies in their ability to make three-pointers, which should come as no surprise to any UGA basketball fan.  The Dawgs have shot over 40% from beyond the arc just three times in league play this year – Tennessee, Arkansas, Missy State – and they won two of those games.

The perimeter game needs to start with freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, who has been mired in a terrible slump over the past three games, averaging just 8.3 points while shooting 27% from the field and 15% on three-point attempts.

KCP has to find a way to put the ball in the basket because senior Gerald Robinson, Jr. cannot keep providing all the offense for Coach Fox’s team.  Georgia’s recent three-game skid has somewhat overshadowed the fact that GR2 has been playing his tail off, netting nearly 16 points to go along with 5.3 boards, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals during that same stretch.  Against both Vandy and South Carolina, Robinson was the only Bulldog to finish the game in double-figures.

If a couple of Bulldogs were to step up and provide some much-needed offensive support to Robinson, then it is not out of the realm of possibilities that the fans in Stegeman could be treated to an afternoon upset.

Dawgs drop another SEC game, losing to LSU 61-53

Georgia’s Donte Willams made a free throw to complete an old-fashioned three-point play, which brought his team to within 3 points, cutting the LSU lead to 45-42 with just 6:52 remaining in the game.

The Tigers responded with back-to-back threes from Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner, and following a pair of free throws from Justin Hamilton they were back on top 53-44 a little over two minutes later.

LSU made 8 of its next 12 free throw attempts which was enough to keep Georgia (12-15; 3-10) at bay, securing the 61-53 SEC home win (their 7th of the season).

Sophomore Andre Stringer hit a number of big shots from beyond the arc Wednesday night, connecting on 4 of 9 attempts and leading all scorers for both teams with 18 points.  All night it seemed as if just as UGA was about to make a run to close the gap, Stringer would can a timely three to shut down any thoughts of a Bulldog run.

Georgia got out to an atrocious start in this game, missing their first 3 field goal attempts and turning the ball over 2 times in less than three minutes of play.  After the dust had cleared, the Dawgs found themselves trailing the Tigers 10-0.

UGA was unable to recover from this initial deficit, playing the entire game from behind.  Coach Mark Fox’s team couldn’t tie the score once in Baton Rouge, let alone take an advantage over LSU.   The closest Georgia got all night was on the aforementioned Donte Williams old-fashioned three-point play.

Coach Fox kept his defense in a lot of zone on Wednesday, looking to force the Tigers to beat them from the outside.  His defensive strategy did serve to limit LSU center Justin Hamilton to just 7 points on the night – nearly 9 points lower than his SEC average.

However, Georgia was unable to contain freshman big Johnny O’Bryant, who pounded the Dawgs on the inside for 14 points and 8 rebounds.

The only UGA player that provided any offense for Coach Fox’s team tonight was senior Gerald Robinson, Jr., finishing the game with 17 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 steals.

Sophomore Donte Williams struggled with foul trouble for the majority of the game, limiting him to only 17 minutes of play.  His minutes were productive, though, with the sophomore ending up with 7 points and 4 boards.

Kentavious-Caldwell Pope’s offensive woes continued in Baton Rouge as he went just 4 of 12 from the floor, ending the game with only 10 points.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise on the night (for me at least) had to be the play of freshman reserve big John Cannon.  In just 14 minutes of game time, Cannon racked up 4 points, 3 rebounds and a block.  More importantly, both of his field goals came on hook shots that he initiated with his back to the basket – real post moves!  By a UGA player at that!

Going forward with the small amount of season that is left, I’d much rather see Cannon come off the bench than John Florveous, Tim Dixon, etc.  At least he can get into the paint and bang like a legitimate post player, which is more than I can say for the other two guys I just named.

Wednesday night’s loss to LSU marks the third-straight for UGA, moving the Dawgs’ conference record to 3-10 (just one game above the Gamecocks).

Assuming Georgia can beat South Carolina at home in 10 days (while simultaneously assuming losses to Florida and Kentucky), the Bulldogs should then have the 11-seed locked up for this year’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in New Orleans.

UGA’s tournament opponent is up in the air at the moment, with Tennessee, Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State all being possible contenders.  I hate to say it so soon after another Georgia loss, but I could realistically see the Dawgs beating any of those four conference opponents on a neutral court.

Any other thoughts on the game, the SEC Tourney, or just the general state of UGA basketball?

Georgia set to take on LSU Wednesday night

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-14; 3-9) and LSU Tigers (16-10; 6-6) were projected to finish 8th and 9th in the conference, respectively, heading into the 2011-2012 season.  At this point in the year, LSU has exceeded expectations while the Dawgs have come up a bit short.

The Tigers are riding a three-game win streak into Wednesday night’s game, while UGA will be looking shake off the remnants from last week’s losses in hopes of avoiding its third-straight conference loss.

LSU’s most recent win was a 68-58 victory over South Carolina in Columbia last Saturday, something Georgia failed to accomplish a week ago from Wednesday.

LSU Coach Trent Johnson, who was Fox’s boss at Nevada for four years, is on the verge of doing something special with this Tiger team in his fourth season as their leader.  LSU hasn’t been listed on Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology or the ESPN Bubble Watch (yet), but a win over Georgia on Wednesday and they might start turning some heads with a winning SEC record.

The Tigers have knocked off two ranked teams this year – #10 Marquette and then-ranked #23 Mississippi State.  LSU has defended home turf pretty well this season in conference play, notching a 5-1 record at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

When breaking down the Tigers statistically, it is hard to find any one category that they have really excelled at in league games (other than their 6 wins).  Similarly to Georgia, LSU ranks outside the top half of the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin.  I’ve only seen them play a couple of games this year and the best thing I can say about this Tiger team is that they know how to find ways to win at the end of games (unlike Coach Fox’s Dawgs).

The biggest problem for the Bulldogs on Wednesday will be finding a way to limit 7′ (260 pound) junior center Justin Hamilton, who is putting together a solid SEC season – scoring 15.8 points and hauling down 7.5 boards per contest.  Hamilton is a lot to contend with in the paint, yet that will be the challenge for John Florveous and Co.

Freshman point guard Anthony Hickey has been superb running Coach Johnson’s offense so far this season, netting 10.6 points and dishing out nearly 4 assists in conference games.

Georgia’s Kentavious-Caldwell Pope has been in a horrid funk as of late, which probably played a large part in the team’s recent struggles against both Vanderbilt and South Carolina.  In these two UGA losses, KCP mustered only 15 points while shooting an abysmal 6 for 25 from the floor.  During the same stretch of games, Pope’s combined 1 for 14 performance from beyond the arc was equally forgettable.

In the Dawgs’ 3 SEC wins this season, KCP has averaged 15.7 points and shot nearly 35% on his three-point attempts.  Conversely – in the 9 conference losses – Pope’s numbers are noticeably lower, with him scoring only 13.1 points and hitting just 31% from beyond the arc.

It is no secret to any UGA basketball fan that as KCP goes, so go the Dawgs.

I’m going to make one last plug for the NIT – probably out of blind love for Georgia more than anything else (like logic) – and I promise if LSU wins on Wednesday I will not mention this post-season tournament again on this blog for the rest of the season.

However, I cannot give up on the Bulldogs’ NIT chances when they are still ever so slightly within reach.  All Georgia has to do is win in Baton Rouge, and then defend Stegeman against #11 Florida and South Carolina (even an optimist like myself has to chalk the impending game in Lexington down in the loss column for UGA).

Piece of cake, right?

Dawgs drop second-straight game, fall to Vandy at home 61-52

The only thing more depressing than the weather outside today was Georgia’s second-half offense against the Vanderbilt Commodores today in Athens.

The Bulldogs(12-14; 3-9) played very solid defense in the first half, holding Vanderbilt to under 29% from the floor and forcing 6 steals.  Georgia took a 29-28 lead into the break despite not having Kentavious-Caldwell Pope’s services for nearly 16 minutes due to early foul trouble.

UGA Student Section
Where were all the UGA students?

The problem, however, was that the Dawgs only held a one-point advantage over the Commodores at the intermission.  Even though Vandy was ice-cold in the first half, Georgia was unable to add to their lead and give themselves a bit of a cushion heading into the second half.

KCP returned to action after the break though, capping off a 7-0 UGA run with a jumper that put the Dawgs up 40-35 with 13:38 left in the game.

Then John Jenkins happened.

The junior guard scored 8 points over the next 5 minutes, spearheading a 15-0 Vanderbilt run.  On a personal side note, I’ve never witnessed a 15-0 run live and let me tell you it is not fun to observe when the team you are cheering for has the “0”.

Georgia played their part during this Commodore run, missing 8 consecutive shots and turning the ball over twice.  After the smoke cleared, Vandy was up 50-40 with under 8 minutes remaining.  The Dawgs’ Gerald Robinson finally broke the UGA drought by scoring consecutive baskets to bring Georgia within 6 points.

Then John Jenkins happened again.

This time the Vandy guard knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to put his team up 56-44, crushing any hopes of a possible Georgia comeback.

Jenkins finished the game with 28 points on 6 of 8 shooting from beyond the arc, and his Commodore team walked out of Stegeman with the 61-52 victory.

Other than Gerald Robinson, who led all Bulldog scorers with 19 points, no other Georgia players cracked double-digits.  KCP and Dustin Ware finished with 6 and 7 points, respectively, and they combined to make just 5 of their 23 shots from the floor.

The Dawgs put on one of the worst three-point shooting displays today that I can remember in some time, hitting only 3 of 23 attempts, or 13%.  Georgia’s scored just 23 points after the intermission, largely in part due to a 1 for 17 shooting performance from beyond the arc.

At this point, it’s beginning to look as though the only post-season Georgia can expect to look forward to is the off-season.

The Dawgs followed up their most successful week of the season (which seems like ages ago now) – wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State – with consecutive SEC losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Next week appears as though it could produce similar results as this one – Georgia hits the road Wednesday to play LSU (who beat SC in Columbia yesterday) before returning home Saturday to host the #12 Florida Gators.

Kudos to any fans out there that made the trip to Stegeman for the game today.  I was extremely disappointed in the turnout from the UGA student section, which appeared to be only about 15% full.

The highlight of the day for me was the El Sandwich Cubano I had from Cali & Tito’s prior to the game.

Georgia looks to rebound against Vanderbilt Sunday at 1:00PM

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-13; 3-8) still have a shot at getting into this year’s NIT Tournament, but after Wednesday night’s loss to South Carolina they certainly have their work cut out for them.

For Georgia to have a realistic chance of getting selected by the NIT committee, they would be best served by bolstering their overall record to .500 before season’s end.  In other words, the Dawgs probably need to win 3 of the 5 remaining games.  One of those games is on the road in Lexington against Kentucky, meaning that Georgia should set its sights on winning 3 of the other games against Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina or at LSU.

If Coach Mark Fox’s team could take 3 more games they would finish somewhere just below the midsection of the SEC standings, giving them a potentially very winnable first-round conference tournament match-up.

The point I’m trying to make is that the Dawgs still have goals to shoot for this season, and accomplishing them starts with beating Vanderbilt (18-8; 7-4) on Sunday.

Georgia played the Commodores tough in Nashville back in January, hanging around until the very end when Vandy was able to pull away and secure a 77-66 home victory.

Vanderbilt’s starting five features three players – John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli – who are all slated to be drafted to the NBA in 2012 according to nbadraft.net.  Taylor and Jenkins are averaging 18.6 ppg and 18.3 ppg respectively, which ranks them first and second in the conference in that category in SEC games this season.  Both of these players are deadly from beyond the arc, where Taylor is connecting on 60% of his shots to Jenkins’ 46.1%.

Ezeli, who was starting to work himself back into the lineup the last time Georgia faced Vandy, has stepped up his game over the past five outings, netting 14.4 ppg during that stretch.  He is a tough match-up for a Bulldog team that lacks anyone with his size, strength or athleticism.  I expect to see more of the same match-up zone on Sunday that UGA utilized against Mississippi State in an attempt to provide help to the undersized bigs with Ezeli.

In the first game between these teams in Nashville, Coach Fox kept the game played at a halfcourt tempo which seemed to work fairly well for the Dawgs.  However, prior to the debacle in Columbia last Wednesday, Georgia had been enjoying a lot of offensive success in their wins over both Arkansas and Mississippi State when they pushed the pace of the game with their speedy backcourt.  I am definitely interested how exactly Fox plans on attacking this Commodore defense on Sunday.

With Vanderbilt’s 18-8 record (7-4 SEC) and RPI rating of 26, they are probably locked into this year’s NCAA Tournament.  However, the ‘Dores have a brutal stretch of games to round out their conference schedule – at #1 Kentucky, #12 Florida at home and then at Tennessee.  If Vandy were to slip up and drop a game to either Georgia or South Carolina, they could run the risk of finishing 8-8 in the conference and needing an SEC Tournament win to feel safe about their postseason security.  I anticipate that Coach Kevin Stallings’ team will arrive in Athens on Sunday hungry to notch their fourth conference road victory of the year.

The Dawgs didn’t respond to well to success last week against Carolina.  I wonder how well they will handle a little adversity following a loss?

Gamecocks edge Dawgs 57-56, ending UGA win streak

Freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope had another chance to ice a game for the Georgia Bulldogs (12-13; 3-8) tonight, attempting a three-pointer from the wing with just 6 seconds remaining in the game and his team trailing by a point.  Unlike in the Mississippi State game though, this shot caromed off of the front of the rim and the South Carolina was able to walk away with a 57-56 victory.

To be fair to KCP, he did knock down a really big three with 2:43 left in the game that tied things up at 53-apiece.

Georgia didn’t lose the game tonight because of Pope’s missed shot.  Rather, the Dawgs were extremely careless with the ball in the second half which allowed the Cocks to hang around and eventually take the lead.

The Bulldogs, who came into the game averaging a league-low 9.3 turnovers per game in SEC play, gave the ball back to Carolina 7 times in the final 10 minutes of the second half.

Prior to this horrific run of careless basketball Georgia had built up a 46-39 lead at the 9:11 mark, which was aided by a pair of Sherrard Brantley threes and a couple free throws from KCP.  However, 3 turnovers and 4 misses later the game was tied with only 4:58 left.

The other point in the game where I thought UGA failed to capitalize and pull away from USC was in the first half, when the Dawgs had bolstered their lead to 16-9 following a three-pointer from senior Dustin Ware.  Ware’s three capped off a 12-2 Georgia run, and it looked as if they might be able to open up a sizeable advantage heading into the break.

Instead, Carolina responded with a 9-2 run of their own, tying the game at 18-18 with less than five minutes to play in the half.

The performances of the UGA bigs hurt the team nearly as badly as the late-game turnovers.  South Carolina showed Georgia a gimmicky trap zone for most of the night, forcing the Bulldog guards to pass, limiting their roles in the offense.  The Georgia big men had a plethora of nice looks at the basket, but they were unable to take advantage of many of them.  Marcus Thornton, Donte Williams, Neme Djurisic and John Florveus shot a combined 8 for 27 from the floor, or  just under 30%, which is a totally unacceptable shooting percentage for a group of post players (typically coaches like these guys to make around 45%+ of their attempts considering they are usually from very close in).

Neither team had much offense tonight with Carolina making 38.8% of their attempts to UGA’s 35.1%.

USC senior Malik Cooke led all scorers with 13 points, while Georgia was led by senior Gerald Robinson, Jr., who finished with a team-high 11 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

In his post-game interview, Coach Mark Fox sounded pretty disappointed in his team.  Fox kept lamenting the fact that the UGA players appeared tired all day (during shoot-around, etc), and that their fatigue carried over into the game and the way that they played.   He chastised his team for playing weak-mindedly and for not protecting the ball.

I can’t say that I can disagree with many of his complaints.

Dawgs looking for third-straight SEC win in Columbia on Wednesday (7PM)

The last time the University of Georgia‘s Men’s basketball team won three-straight regular season SEC games was nearly five years ago.

On Wednesday night in Columbia, Coach Mark Fox’s Dawgs will have an opportunity to reach that milestone.

If the Bulldogs (12-12; 3-7) are still resting on their laurels from their recent wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State though, all the momentum that UGA has built up in the last week could be flushed down the toilet.  Remember, as bad as South Carolina (9-15; 1-9) has been this season, they did knock off Alabama at home back in January for their lone conference win – a feat that Georgia could not accomplish in Athens.

Furthermore, should this UGA really be sleeping against anyone?

Last season, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington was possibly the best freshman in the conference not wearing a Kentucky jersey.  In his rookie campaign, Ellington carried the Gamecocks, scoring 12.8 points and dishing out over 3 assists per game.

However, if their was one team that Bruce fared particularly poorly against last year it was Georgia; the reason – Gerald Robinson, Jr.  Ellington may suffer from nightmarish flashbacks upon first glance at Robinson, who limited him to just 9 total points on 4 of 24 shooting from the floor in both the Cocks’ losses to UGA.

Should GR2 continue to frustrate Ellington on Wednesday, Coach Horn’s Carolina team could be in for a long night.  Ellington has been having a decent sophomore season since returning to the team from football, netting 11.4 points as well as 3.6 assists in SEC contests.

The only other Carolina player scoring in double-digits in conference games this year is senior forward Malik Cooke, who is leading the Cocks’ frontcourt with 10.8 points per contest.

Ellington and Cooke are the scoring leaders on a team that, like Georgia, has struggled to put the ball in the basket in league games this year.  The Gamecocks are right below UGA in total points at 59.6 per game, and they are only connecting on 38.4% of their field goal attempts (two spots ahead of Georgia, who is last in the SEC at 37.6%).

This game should present the Dawgs’ bigs with another chance to win a rebounding battle as the Cocks are hauling in a league-low 29.7 boards per contest.

Georgia has started to right the ship on this season, beginning the second half of the SEC schedule with a pair of victories.  The Dawgs’ two leading scorers – Gerald Robinson and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope – have been on fire as of late, averaging 20 and 19 points each over the last two games, respectively.

Another conference win on Wednesday would set UGA up with a monster Sunday showdown in Athens against Vanderbilt, a team Georgia played very competitively on the road earlier this year.  There is no doubting that the Dawgs are on the cusp of putting together an impressive little run after what transpired last week.  I mean, Georgia must be hot if the AJC’s local bandwagoner/hot-air blower Mark Bradley felt compelled to mention them for the SECOND time this season (24 games in).

Even though South Carolina has lost five-straight games – four of those losses coming on the road – they will no doubt be excited about returning home with a chance to notch their second conference victory.

Can Coach Fox’s team continue to keep this train rolling?