In the first meeting between Arkansas and Georgia in Athens – a game which UGA won 67-61 – Michael Qualls scored just 3 points on a 1 for 10 shooting performance from the floor.
Unfortunately for the Dawgs, Qualls made amends for that game on Saturday inside Bud Walton Arena, where he scored 20 points to go along with 3 steals. Throughout much of the game, Qualls served as the catalyst in the Hogs’ full-court press, which gave Georgia fits for much of the afternoon.
Arkansas turned UGA over 16 times in Fayetteville with Brandon Morris and Charles Mann leading the way with 7 and 6, respectively. In Georgia’s press offense, Morris and Mann are usually the primary ball-handlers, so when they are coughing it up a combined 13 times to the other team things typically don’t pan out well for the Dawgs.
Despite all of the turnovers, Arkansas could not put Georgia away in the second half, seemingly leaving the door open for a UGA comeback. After shooting nearly 60% from the floor before the break, Arky went cold in the second half, making just 40% of its field goal attempts and connecting on only 1 of 9 shots from beyond the arc.
The problem, though, was that UGA shot the ball worse, hitting less than 30% of its field goals following the intermission. Aside from Kenny Gaines and Marcus Thornton, Georgia did not have much going on on the offensive end of the floor. Gaines, who connected on 6 of 9 threes, scored a game-high 25 points, and Thornton chipped in 13 points to go along with 6 boards.
Charles Mann, who had as many turnovers as points, only scored 2 points in the second half, and he sat on the bench for the final stretch of the game after Coach Fox appeared tired of watching Mann’s carelessness.
Georgia did cut the Arkansas advantage to as low as 5 points after Kenny Gaines hit a pair of free throws to make it 65-60 with just 4:43 remaining. But the Hogs responded immediately and in less than a minute the score was 70-60 after Rashad Madden connected on the team’s only three-pointer of the half.
UGA didn’t have another run in them, and the Hogs cruised to the 87-75 victory.
A disconcerting by-product of yesterday’s loss is that Georgia’s hold on third place in the SEC is now a lot less secure. Both Arkansas and Tennessee are just one game behind the Dawgs in the standings with two games remaining on the conference slate, and these two teams would win any kind of two-way or three-way tie-breakers that might exist with UGA should their conference records end up the same.
Georgia has a winnable home game against Missy State on Tuesday, but then the Dawgs have to hit the road again for a difficult regular-season finale in Baton Rouge versus the LSU Tigers.
Arkansas and Tennessee’s final two games seem less daunting than Georgia’s since each team has a much easier road game this week. The Hogs get Ole Miss at home before heading to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama (6-10). The Vols travel to Auburn (5-11) before ending the season at home against Missouri.
Obviously anything is possible and there is still week of basketball to be played, but Georgia’s chances of reaching the finals of the SEC basketball tournament seem much more favorable as the 3-seed. At the 3-seed, UGA could avoid Florida – the only team that truly seems unbeatable in this conference.
At the 3-seed, Georgia could potentially play in a winnable semifinal game against Kentucky, a team that is currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak and reeling from Saturday’s loss to SEC bottom-dweller South Carolina (4-12).
Georgia has two games left on the schedule, and the only way to ensure a 3-seed in the conference tournament is to win both of them.