Mark Fox has got to be wishing that Kyle Wiltjer was still living in Lexiington, Kentucky right now.
The junior from Portland overwhelmed the Georgia defense on Wednesday night, scoring 32 points from just about every spot on the court.
The Zags pounced on UGA from the start, opening up a 12-2 lead before 4 minutes had elapsed, following a three-pointer from Kevin Pangos. To Georgia’s credit, though, they weathered the storm, bringing the Gonzaga advantage to 16-8 after a Charles Mann jumper with 13:38 remaining in the half.
However, the Dawgs failed to ever make it a one or two possession game. Gonzaga would build a double-digit lead, and then UGA would make a small run, getting with 7, 8 or 9 points, only to have the Zags back up by 12 or 14 just minutes later.
Honestly, Gonzaga never really appeared threatened by Georgia. Every time the Dawgs started to get close, Wiltjer or Pangos, who finished with 22 points, would knock down a timely bucket to keep UGA at bay.
Georgia’s last push came with 7:35 left in the game, when a layup by Neme Djurisic made it 65-57, in favor of Gonzaga. But, 4 quick points by Wiltjer, and a minute later the Zags were back up by 12 points. Ultimately, Gonzaga ended up coasting to an 88-76 victory.
The lone bright spot for the Dawgs was point guard Charles Mann, who played his best game of the season, scoring 23 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Mann was the only UGA player that was able to create any offense against this bigger Gonzaga team.
This game exposed some glaring weaknesses in Georgia’s perimeter defense, which was unable to contain the Gonzaga backcourt. All night, the Dawgs looked a step slow, allowing the Zag guards to drive the ball into the lane whenever they wanted.
Offensively, Georgia had its issues as well. One thing that was quite clear from last night’s performance was that UGA does not have an inside game, or at least not when they play against real teams. Marcus Thornton, who was coming off back-to-back 17-point efforts, was flustered by the bigger Gonzaga front court. Thornton spent the entire game in foul trouble, scoring just 9 points and committing 4 turnovers; he had to be missing the smaller, less physical frontcourts of both Troy and Florida Atlantic.
Another chink in UGA’s offensive armor was on the perimeter, where the Dawgs continued to struggle from beyond the arc. After going 4 for 16 on three-pointers last night, Georgia is now shooting a frigid 26% on three’s this season. Kenny Gaines, who is hitting only 26% himself, has yet to find his touch from a year ago. Other than J.J. Frazier, who is knocking down almost 37% from beyond the arc, no one else on the UGA roster poses much of a threat from the outside.
Whether Coach Mark Fox can clean up some of his team’s faults remains to be seen. None of his big men are going to grow any taller over the next few months, so it’s hard to envision much improvement in the frontcourt offense.
Kenny Gaines can and most likely will begin shooting better, which will certainly help.
But can anyone honestly say that after watching last night’s contest that this UGA squad looks like an NCAA tournament team?