UGA secures huge road win and ends season 3rd in SEC

How will they replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s scoring?  Where will the offense come from?  Surely they cannot win as many games after losing the SEC Player of the Year to the NBA draft…

These concerns were the consensus question marks surrounding Coach Mark Fox’s team heading into the 2013-2014 season from just about every major media source that previews college basketball.  This year’s team was picked to finish somewhere around 10th or 11th in the SEC before the season began.

Sophomores Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines had different ideas.

Georgia’s backcourt combined for 44 of UGA’s 69 points today in Baton Rouge, hoisting the Dawgs on their backs and carrying their team to a critical 69-61 road win against LSU.

The UGA duo played lights out on Saturday with Gaines scoring 20 points for the 4th time in the last 7 games.  The sophomore was white hot in the first half, connecting on all four of his three-point attempts.

The entire Bulldog team was hitting shots before the intermission, making over 52% of their attempts from the floor.  The problem wasn’t UGA’s shooting, though, it was their ball security.  Georgia committed 13 first-half turnovers, yet they still managed to take 30-28 lead into the break due to some poor LSU shooting.

The Dawgs held a 21-18 advantage over the Tigers with 11:24 left before the half after a three from J.J. Frazier.  Georgia remained stuck on 21 points for nearly 6 minutes until Kenny Gaines hit a three to reclaim a 24-22 lead.  During that 6-minute drought, UGA committed 5 turnovers, and the only thing that kept them in the game was the fact that the Tigers could not find the rim.

In the second half, Charles Mann took over, scoring 16 of his game-high 22 points and snagging 7 of his game-high 10 rebounds (yes, Mann secured his first double-double of the season in probably the most important game of the year).  Mann basically did what he does best: he got the line, where he made an incredible 12 of 14 attempts.

Georgia held an 11-point lead with less than 8 minutes left, and they were barely challenged for the remainder of the game other than a very brief LSU spurt that saw the Tigers cut the UGA advantage to 65-59 after an Anthony Hickey three-pointer.  Charles Mann immediately buried a pair of free throws that shot the lead back to 8 points, and Georgia notched its 12th conference win of the season.

As far as LSU’s offense is concerned, the Tigers were led by Andre Stringer’s 22 points.

LSU’s leading scorer – Johnny O’Bryant – was a non-factor, mustering only 5 points while committing 5 turnovers.   Coach Fox had a masterful game plan for JOB, doubling down on him at almost every opportunity.  O’Bryant appeared flustered with the UGA defense, which held him to a season-low in scoring in conference play.

For Georgia, this victory was absolutely enormous.

The Dawgs finish the year 18-12 overall and 12-6 in the SEC, giving them the 3-seed in next week’s conference tournament.

Georgia will get the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt/Mississippi State game in the quarterfinals round on Friday night.

The NCAA selection committee may or may not have UGA on its radar, but after winning 8 of their last 10 games to close out the regular season the Bulldogs are making themselves harder and harder to ignore.

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Dawgs in Baton Rouge playing for a chance to dance

Another bubbly Saturday

No, a win today over LSU will not punch Georgia’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament.  Georgia’s RPI of 79 is not attractive enough yet for them to be considered tourney material (yet).

A victory this afternoon would certainly boost UGA’s RPI (as would wins by Davidson, Temple, Western Carolina, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia Washington, Chattanooga, Colorado and Woffford, according to CBS’s Bracketologist Jerry Palm).

The RPI ranking system is an amorphous mess, and it is completely out of Georgia’s control.

The only thing that Coach Mark Fox and his team can earn for certain today is the 3-seed to the SEC tournament next week, and to do that the Dawgs must complete a season sweep of the LSU Tigers.

A key factor in UGA’s 91-78 home win over LSU earlier in the year was that the Tigers’ leading scorer – Johnny O’Bryant III (JOB) – was in foul trouble the entire game.  JOB played just 14 minutes in that game, which hampered LSU’s ability to score and defend inside.

When O’Bryant was in the game, however, he was extremely effective, scoring all 9 of his points in 10 minutes of the second half.

Speaking honestly, JOB is probably the best legitimate big man in the SEC, averaging almost 17 points and 8 rebounds a night in conference play.  If O’Bryant manages to avoid foul trouble this time around, UGA is going to have a much tougher Tiger team on their hands this afternoon.

Making matters even more challenging for the Dawgs is the fact that LSU is still in the hunt for an at-large bid themselves with an RPI rating of 64.

Today’s game should have a “playoff” feel to it.

Georgia’s three-point game

Throughout the season, broadcasters and journalists have type-casted this UGA basketball team as a hard-nosed bunch that likes to score the basketball close to the rim (which is fairly accurate), lacking in much of anything resembling a perimeter game.

Interestingly, though, with one game remaining in the season UGA currently sits at 3rd in the SEC in three-point shooting in conference games, knocking down nearly 36% of its shots from beyond the arc.

While the Dawgs only average a little over 5 threes a night in league play, I was surprised by the team’s successful shooting rate from the perimeter.

A big contributor to Georgia’s exterior offense has been sophomore Kenny Gaines, who is making almost 42% of his three-point attempts in SEC games, which is 4th in the conference.