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.