First off, a huge thank you to my friend Decatur Dawg for keeping the updates going over the past week as I completed a 108-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail in southern New Mexico. I managed to catch the first two games via WatchESPN on my phone, and I even got to see today’s game in a sports bar in Silver City, NM, but without access to a computer I could have not written a single word about what transpired in Nashville, so I most certainly appreciate all his efforts.
This afternoon, the Dawgs put together their best half of the season en route to a 49-44 halftime lead. Everything that could have possibly been clicking for Georgia was clicking: Kenny Gaines had 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, Yante Maten was making every hook shot he could get up, and even seldomly used Turtle Jackson chipped in a pair of three’s.
But alas, UGA couldn’t sustain its 61% field goal shooting for ever. The Dawgs cooled off after the the intermission, connecting on just 34% of their shots from the floor, while Kentucky warmed up, making over 55% of their tries from the field.
Oh yea, and Georgia’s star player, J.J. Frazier, went down a little over 4 minutes into the second half with a painful-looking ankle injury that resulted from him landing ackwardly on the foot of a Kentucky big on a drive to the basket. Frazier headed to the lockerroom for treatment, and he did gut it out and return, but J.J. was not the same, moving gingerly around the court as he tried his best to play through the injury.
Kentucky capitalized while Frazier was sidelined, erasing a 62-54 UGA lead over the next five minutes. Isaiah Briscoe, who finished with 12 points, made a layup with 8:16 remaining to give his Wildcats a 68-67 advantage. Briscoe hit a jumper with 6 minutes left to send the Wildcat lead to 74-69, capping off a 20-7 Kentucky run. At this point, Big Blue Nation was on its feet and as loud as ever as their beloved Cats ran away with the game down the stretch on its way to 93-80 semifinal victory.
Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulises lived up to their All-SEC billings, scoring 26 and 25 points, respectively. Coach Calipari’s team was extremely protective of the ball, turning it over just 5 times on Saturday; UGA had only 12 turnovers themselves, but the Cats were opportunistic and converted them into 20 points.
Credit Coach Mark Fox and his staff for putting up such a valiant effort, especially considering his team was coming off back-to-back late night tips. Fox employed a wholesale substitution strategy throughout the first half in an effort to keep his guys fresh, and while it seemed unorthodox, for the most part it worked. Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier led the Dawgs with 20 and 19 points, respectively. Gaines chipped in 16 points, though he failed to convert a field goal following the halftime break.
Moving forward, it seems most likely that Georgia will be hosting an NIT game next week. The Dawgs’ RPI should hover around 60 even with today’s loss, and they could possibly receive a small boost from Seton Hall’s Big East conference championship. By no means is Georgia completely out of the picture regarding the Big Dance: the committee has selected teams with RPI’s in the 60s before, Georgia has a highly-respected non-conference schedule and I’m just certain that the SEC will get at least 3 teams (2 would be a complete slap to the league’s face as a Power 5 conference).
For now, UGA fans should be proud of their team and hopeful that the selection committee liked what they saw in Nashville this week.