Georgia drops second SEC game in a row, falling 72-61 to Missy State

On an afternoon which the University of Georgia honored members from the school’s 1983 Final Four basketball team, the current Bulldogs put on a performance that fans are probably trying their best to forget.

After an exciting first half that saw Mississippi State take a narrow 36-35 lead into the break, both offenses came out flat to start the final twenty minutes. With 7:38 remaining in the game, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a free throw that cut the State advantage to just one point at 52-51.

It was at this exact moment that MSU guard Jalen Steele decided that he wanted to win the game, making three shots from beyond the arc on consecutive possessions. Steele’s last three-pointer during this span put his team up 62-51 with only 5 minutes left, ensuring that the Maroon Dawgs would secure the road win and start out the SEC season 2-0.

KCP, who looked as if he was going to have a monster game after scoring 14 points in the first half, was unable to convert on any of his 6 field goal attempts after the intermission – a sure recipe for disaster considering he is UGA’s only real scoring threat. Pope made a pair of free throws, finishing the game with a team-high 16 points.

The Dawgs put up a herculean effort on the glass, winning the rebounding margin by a count of 44-37. What was particularly impressive was Georgia’s success on the offensive boards, where they brought down 17 rebounds.

Once again, however, it was the team’s shooting that ultimately led to their demise. UGA shot under 33% from the floor and just 59% from the free throw line on 32 attempts. In his post-game interview, Coach Mark Fox seemed unable to explain his team’s inability to perform from the charity stripe in games other than the players need to take more responsibility.

I wish that Fox has spoken more about his substitution strategy after the game, because I left Stegeman perplexed as to why starter Brandon Morris only played two minutes in the game’s second half. Morris, who ended up logging just 11 minutes in this one, scored 4 points before the break on two nice moves that he made off the dribble, and he appeared to be raising Georgia’s energy level. Yet, Fox chose to leave him on the bench for 90% of the second half.

The Dawgs 0-2 start to conference play is troubling because today’s game was considered by most to be one of their easier home games. On Wednesday, Georgia heads to #10 Missouri for a game that could get rather ugly in a hurry (a la last week’s Florida game).

Red Dawgs host Maroon Dawgs this Saturday

Coach Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldog (6-8; 0-1) team has had roughly 48 hours to lick their wounds and try to regroup after receiving a 77-44 shellacking at the hands of the Florida Gators in Gainesville last Wednesday.

The silver lining in the loss to the Gators is that it was pretty much the result that was expected.

However, when UGA takes the court on Saturday against Mississippi State (6-7; 1-0), the Dawgs should feel a sense of urgency to protect home court and get a win because a loss could set the tone for what could end up being a dismal season.

Georgia’s performance in their season-opener sent them right back down to the basement of the latest ESPN SEC Power Rankings – no real shocker there.

Mississippi State, who was projected to finish last in the conference prior to the start of the season, currently sits at the 11th spot in the SEC ranks. For all the struggles that the maroon Dawgs have had so far this year, they did win their first conference game 56-54 over South Carolina, marking the team’s third win in the last four games. While the Bulldogs have gotten out to a slow start, much of that can be attributed to the fact that they were playing without star junior guard Jalen Steele, who fractured his wrist earlier in the season. Steele returned to the lineup two weeks ago, and his team has won 2 of 3 games with him netting 10 ppg during that same stretch.

This particular match-up may not be suitable for basketball fans that enjoy offense, as both State and UGA are scoring towards the bottom-tier of the country’s teams at 62.5 ppg and 59.4 ppg, respectively (Georgia is now 321st in the nation in that category).

MSU’s leaders on offense – along with Steele – are sophomore big Roquez Johnson and freshman Fred Thomas, who are both averaging double-figures in points per game.

The Dawgs play at #10 Missouri next Wednesday, meaning that if they hope to avoid an 0-3 start to conference play it would behoove them to get a win in Athens on Saturday.

With the way that Georgia handled (or did not handle) the Gators’ full-court pressure earlier this week, I would not at all be surprised to see MSU look to play this game up-tempo.

Hopefully Fox’s team will be prepared with a better response than what we saw in Gainesville.

Gators rout Dawgs in SEC opener

The Georgia Bulldogs first conference game of the season did not go well.

Coach Mark Fox’s young team, facing the 11th-ranked squad in the country on the road, got out to what can only be described as the worst start imaginable for an inexperienced team away from home.

Billy Donoans’s Gators came out of the gates applying relentless full court pressure, forcing the Dawgs into 4 turnovers on their first 5 possessions.  By the time five minutes had elapsed, Georgia found themselves on the wrong end of an 11-0 run.  

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did not even find his way into the scoring column until eight minutes remained before the half.  The Bulldogs were frustrated into near meltdown-mode offensively, and their leading scorer refused to assert himself.

Credit Florida senior Kenny Boynton for the defensive performance he put on KCP on Wednesday night.  Boynton may have struggled to find offense, scoring just 7 points on 2 of 8 shooting from the floor, but he made up for it on the other end of the court, holding Pope to only 11 points on the night (on 4 of 10 shooting).

The Gators took a 28-15 advantage into the break, which seemed rather shocking considering just how lopsided this half felt as an observer.

Florida proceeded to begin the second half much like it started the first, opening up with an 8-0 run.  Following a lay-up by Tim Dixon with 16:45 left in the game, the Gators lead had ballooned to 36-19.

For most of the second half, Florida merely toyed with Georgia, setting themselves up for wide open three after wide open three.  With 12:06 remaining, Florida’s lead approached thirty points (53-26) after freshman Michael Frazier hit his second shot from beyond the arc.  At the 8:35 mark, the Gators advantage had blossomed to 62-31.

Florida made 12 of their 26 three-point attempts, which really made the score unbalanced considering UGA was only able to hit one shot from the perimeter.

When the final horn sounded, Georgia had committed 19 turnovers which factored greatly into the Gators 77-44 blowout.

Florida was led offensively by guard Mike Rosario, who scored a game-high 19 points.

In the first conference game of their young careers, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris finally looked like freshman – tentative and unsure of what to do with the ball.  The two players combined for just two field goals in a total 47 minutes played.

The loss tonight to Florida puts an end to Georgia’s four-game winning streak.  The Dawgs had clearly not faced an animal with teeth like the Gators during their recent stretch of games, and tonight’s UGA performance highlighted a plethora of areas in which this team must improve (ball security, press break, etc.).

While the Gators were heavily favored heading into this match-up, the outcome turned out to be even more disproportionate than anticipated.  

However, Georgia must find a way to regroup quickly so that they will be prepared to hold serve at home this Saturday against Mississippi State in a game that should serve as a good indicator of just how this SEC season might go for the Dawgs.

Georgia opens up SEC play in Gainesville

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-7) will begin conference play on Wednesday as they head south to take on the #11 Florida Gators (10-2).

The Gators returned a solid core of players – Kenny Boynton, Patrick Young, Erik Murphy – this season from a team that was just a basket away from reaching the Final Four in last year’s NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Myron Metcalf likes Florida to win the SEC, citing senior forward/center Erik Murphy as a critical portion of that prediction. Murphy – Florida’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 ppg – is a big body to contend with inside at 6’10”, yet he possesses a surprisingly soft touch from the outside, hitting over 45% of his three-point attempts.

Unfortunately for Florida Coach Billy Donovan, Murphy is listed as “doubtful” for the game against Georgia, and he may miss up to two weeks with a rib injury.

The Gators will definitely miss Murphy’s offense on Wednesday night, and his absence is certainly a huge plus for a UGA team that could use any and every possible advantage available in their first SEC road game of 2013.

Coach Mark Fox’s defense must capitalize on the weakened Florida lineup by centering much of their defensive focus on shutting down senior guard Kenny Boynton. Boynton, a preseason First-Team All-SEC selection, leads the Gators with nearly 14 points per contest, and he is an extremely streaky shooter with the ability to change games quickly from the perimeter.

However, in each of Florida’s two losses this season – Arizona and Kansas State – Boynton struggled to score, managing just 16 total points on a combined 6 for 21 shooting performance from the floor. In both of the aforementioned games, Boynton shot woefully from beyond the arc, making only 2 of his 12 attempts.

The message for the Georgia backcourt: Stop Boynton and you might stop Florida.

If the Dawgs can contain Boynton and not let junior Patrick Young hurt them too much in the paint, they may find themselves hanging around late in the game – Vegas doesn’t think so though, slotting Georgia as an 18-point underdog in this one.

Young is monster in the frontcourt, standing 6’9″ and weighing nearly 250lbs (most of which appears to be solid muscle). He is chipping in over 10 points and almost 7 boards a night for Billy Donovan thus far.

Georgia is riding a four-game win streak into Gainesville, though I would like to note that the team they face on Wednesday night is going to look nothing like the squads UGA entertained in Athens in December. In addition, this game will be the first conference game of the year for the freshmen, meaning that “playtime” is over for Charles Mann and Brandon Morris – from here on out, the defenders are going to be bigger and quicker across the board.

Finally, Coach Fox must continue to get solid offensive production from sophomore big Nemanja Djurisic. The Montenegro Express has been scorching hot the past two games, averaging 19 points and 6 rebounds. The Dawgs have to be able to rely on Neme to help supplement some of the scoring in SEC play so that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does not have to do it all himself.

Oh yeah – the last time Georgia won a game at the O’Connell Center was over a decade ago (2002).

Georgia wins low scoring contest over George Washington

Charles Mann may not have started the game against George Washington, but he certainly made the plays his team needed at the end of the night to help them finish it.

On a critical Georgia possession with under 2 minutes to play and his team up by 3 points, Mann penetrated into the heart of the Colonial zone, drawing defenders and then dishing to a wide open Nemanja Djurisic who finished the play for 2 UGA points.

Following another George Washington miss, Mann once again brought the ball down the floor, attacked the zone and delivered another pass to Djurisic on the block – Neme finished the basket despite being fouled on the shot, giving the Dawgs a 46-39 advantage with only 1:22 remaining in the game. These two possessions sealed the Colonials fate, and Georgia walked out of Stegeman with a 52-41 win, their fourth in a row.

Coach Mark Fox’s team secured the victory on Friday night despite playing arguably their sloppiest game of the year. The Bulldogs committed a season-high 23 turnovers, which enabled George Washington to hang around even though the Colonials only managed to hit 24% of their field goal attempts. Georgia shot nearly 49% from the floor on Friday, yet their inability to value the basketball allowed the Colonials to nearly pull off the road upset.

Even after the Colonials began the second half with a 1 for 11 shooting performance from the floor, Georgia was only able to muster a 32-28 lead with a little over 12 minutes remaining.

Fortunately for the Dawgs, Neme was able to continue his offensive onslaught in the win over the Colonials, pouring in 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds. This game came off the heels of Nemanja’s 21-point effort against FAMU last Saturday. Djurisic has been playing some inspired basketball as of late, and his improved offensive presence gives Kentavious Caldwell-Pope some much-needed support in the scoring department.

Although Mann had a pair of nice plays near the end of regulation, he struggled for most the night, managing only 3 points while committing a team-leading 5 turnovers.

KCP made his typical contribution – 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

George Washington, a team that entered the game expecting to out rebound the Dawgs, lost the battle of the boards to UGA by a tally of 37 to 27. A big reason for Georgia’s success on the glass can be attributed to the efforts by John Florveous, who led all players with 10 rebounds.

The Bulldog defense frustrated the Colonials’ leading scorer Isaiah Armwood for much of the night, limiting him to only 6 points on 3 of 10 shooting from the field. The only George Washington player to finish in double-figures was freshman Kenny Larsen, who paced his team with 14 points.

Friday’s win over George Washington completes Georgia 2012-2013 non-SEC schedule, with the Bulldogs beginning conference play next Wednesday at Florida.

For a team that began the season 2-7, the Dawgs have to be one of the most satisfied sub-.500 teams in the nation.

Georgia finishes up non-conference slate with George Washington

The Georgia Bulldogs (5-7) are enjoying their longest win-streak of the 2012-2013 season – 3 games – after fending off FAMU 82-73 in Athens last Saturday. While this team’s consecutive victories over Mercer, Southern Cal and FAMU may not do much to bolster Georgia’s strength-of-schedule (which is consider 92nd in the nation by CBS), these wins in large part been the result of some much-improved UGA offense.

During this span of games, the Dawgs have been shooting nearly 46% from the field, almost 49% from the perimeter and just under 74% from the free throw line. Comparing this production with the team’s offensive numbers in its first 9 games is like comparing Dr. Jeckyll to Mr. Hyde.

In Georgia’s 9 contests prior to the game with Mercer, UGA was making below 40% of their field goals and fewer than 30% of their shots from beyond the arc. Georgia’s effort from the free throw line during this stretch may have costed them a few games, with the Dawgs sinking only 63.6% of their attempts from the charity stripe.

Coincidentally, the Bulldogs have turned up the intensity on the defensive end as well, which undoubtedly has also contributed to the team’s recent success. Georgia held Mercer, USC and FAMU to under 37% from the floor, and they were able to limit these teams to just 25% from the perimeter.

On Friday night, the Dawgs will be visited by the George Washington Colonials (6-6), a team that was projected to finish near the bottom of the 14-team Atlantic 10 conference. The Colonials share a common opponent with Georgia – the Youngstown State Penguins – who also beat them on their home court in GW’s home opener on November 10th.

The Colonials are led by Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood, a junior forward from Baltimore, Maryland. Armwood is netting 13.3 points and hauling in 8.4 rebounds a night, and he is ferocious shot-blocker who swats over 3 shots per game (ranking him 9th in the country in that category).

George Washington’s strong suit is their ability to crash the boards, where they rank 33rd in the nation at over 40 rebounds per game. The Colonials are getting almost 13 offensive boards a contest, meaning that Georgia will need to be prepared to defensive rebound on Friday so as to limit GW’s second-chance opportunities.

Coach Mark Fox’s team needs to keep building momentum as they head into the SEC schedule next Wednesday when they take on the #13 Florida Gators in Gainesville. Another win would serve to bolster the confidence level of a young UGA team that is slated to play Florida (twice) and #12 Missouri before we are barely halfway through the month of January.