SEC openers have not been Mark Fox’s specialty during his tenure in Athens as his teams have gone a combined 2-5. Georgia (9-4) looked overwhelmed at the start of this game, and following a tip-in by Austin Wiley the Auburn Tigers (10-3) held a commanding 33-20 lead over the Dawgs just a little over halfway through the opening twenty minutes. The sold out Auburn Arena was rocking as this hot Tiger team, coming off a huge road win at Connecticut, seemed poised to deliver a knockout punch to a shell-shocked group of Dawgs.
But UGA hung around. J.J. Frazier got handsy, ratcheting up a game-high 5 steals. Jordan Harris looked like a 4-star recruit, scoring 12 points on a combination of three-pointers and drives. Yante Maten got hit with 2 quick fouls, but managed to only accumulate 1 more over the final 30-something minutes. Even Juwan Parker, who’s jumper has been anything but consistent this season, buried a key shot from the corner that put the Dawgs up 90-80 with only 2:31 left.
Below are two major reasons why Georgia managed to pull off this 96-84 victory on The Plains:
Switch to zone
The Dawgs tried to play Auburn in a man defense to begin the game and that strategy was rendered ineffective pretty quickly. The Tigers pushed the tempo early, and UGA failed to close out well on the perimeter, which led to a barrage of Auburn three-pointers. The Tigers hit 7 of their first 11 shots from beyond the arc and held a 36-26 advantage with a little over 8 minutes left in the first half after a triple from junior T.J. Lang.
Credit Mark Fox, however, for recognizing and reacting to Auburn’s pace by putting his team into a combination of matchup, 2-3 and 3-2 zones. The Tigers missed their final 3 shots from the perimeter heading into the intermission, and they made just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc in the second half. After hitting over 56% from the floor in the first twenty minutes of play, Auburn made only 37% of its field goal attempts following the break. UGA’s zone looks reduced the number of open shots from the outside for Bruce Pearl’s team, and it helped Georgia slow down the tempo of the game, which turned out to work very much in Dawgs’ favor.
In the latter quarter of this game, Georgia abandoned its typical half court offensive sets, which can become slightly rigid at times, and instead put the ball in the hands of its two playmakers. On nearly every possession, the Dawgs offense consisted of a high screen by Yante Maten for J.J. Frazier, and then those two would take it from there. Maten, who led all scorers with 31 points, netted 10 of those in the game’s final 8 minutes. Frazier, who poured in 27 points as well, scored 8 during the same stretch and dished out 2 of his 5 assists. The UGA offense looked much more NBA-like than collegiate in the game’s final minutes, and Georgia closed out this contest with a 22-10 run after trailing Auburn 76-74 with 7:27 remaining. After connecting on just 42% of its field goal attempts in the first half, Georgia almost knocked down 60% of its shots from the floor following the intermission en route to a season-high output of 96 points.