Sometimes talent triumphs grittiness and effort.
At least that was the lesson the Georgia Bulldogs learned yesterday in its 70-58 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals round of the SEC tournament.
The Cats are a physically impressive bunch, especially when viewed in person.
If you think having a 6’4″ point guard like Charles Mann is nice, guess what? Kentucky has two of them – each of the Harrison twins is 6’6″ and they both handle the ball well.
Julius Randle is 6’10” of pure muscle, and he too can move with the athleticism of a guard or wing.
The fact that UGA hung around and managed to make it a game at all is a testament to Coach Mark Fox’s system and his players’ belief in that system.
Just as in the Ole Miss game, Georgia had to play much of the first half with four starters – Mann, Kenny Gaines, Brandon Morris and Donte Williams – on the bench with two fouls each.
Once again, UGA’s reserves stepped up – JuWan Parker scored 7 points and J.J. Frazier contributed another 5 (to go along with 3 rebounds). Neme Djurisic and Cameron Forte scored 4 points apiece, and the Dawgs went into the intermission trailing Kentucky 36-32.
These aforementioned UGA players were all two-star recruits coming out of high school, and yet they managed to keep the Dawgs competitive in a game against a team that has McDonald’s All-Americans on its bench.
In the second half, though, UK’s talent took over.
Kentucky tightened up its defense, making it very difficult for Georgia to get good looks near the basket. The Cats are so long and athletic that it felt like there were six or seven of them on defense each possession.
For the majority of the afternoon, Georgia had the game played at the pace it wanted – slow and deliberate. The speed of the game definitely slowed down the Kentucky offense, but unfortunately for UGA, Kentucky turned in one of its better shooting performances of the season.
The Wildcats, who ranked near the bottom of the SEC in three-point percentage at just 32% in league games, knocked down an impressive 9 of their 16 attempts from beyond the arc. These three-pointers were devastating for the Dawgs, and they enabled UK to secure the 70-58 victory and earn a chance to play the Florida Gators on Sunday.
Georgia got as close as 3 points after a free throw from Neme to make it 46-43 with 13 minutes remaining, but the Dawgs were unable to wipe out the deficit completely.
UGA was led offensively by Kenny Gaines, who scored all 13 of his points in the game’s second half. Charles Mann was the only other Bulldog to finish in double-digits, contributing 12 points.
This loss pretty much assures that Georgia will not be playing in the NCAA tournament this season, but with an RPI of 76 the Dawgs look like a lock for the NIT.
Yesterday’s game embodied the kind of overachievement that the Dawgs have produced for much of this season as Georgia played toe-to-toe with a team that began the year ranked #1 in the country.
After a 6-6 start in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Georgia looked like a program that was about to go off the rails once conference play started. In addition to this mediocrity, Coach Mark Fox was being listed on just about every “Hot Seat” compilation being generated amongst college basketball media sources.
Somehow, CMF and his team altered the course of the season. For Georgia to finish the year 19-13 overall and tied for second in the conference is living proof to the amount of heart and perseverance this team possesses.
The Dawgs won 9 of their last 12 games, arguably making them one of the hotter teams in the country.
The knock against Fox has always been his inability to bring in more big-time recruits from the metro Atlanta area, which may be true.
But the guy definitely develops players (see J.J. Frazier, Neme Djurisic, Marcus Thornton, Kenny Gaines), and he finds a way to squeeze every ounce of effort out of his team.
The Dawgs are set to lose just one player from this team -senior Donte Williams – and they should enter next season as one of the favorites to finish near the top of the conference.
Coach Fox seems to have the program going in the right direction.