UGA comes up short again in Gainesville against the Gators

J.J. Frazier had a chance to be a hero twice on Saturday, but he came up a little short each time.  The first opportunity came at the end of regulation when J.J. took a last second shot from the top of the key as timed expired, but the ball didn’t cooperate, bouncing off the back of the iron and sending the game into overtime.  At the end of OT, Frazier took an off-balanced shot from the corner that could have tied the game at 79 apiece, but that shot   was off the mark as well and UGA lost an 80-76 heartbreaker to the Florida Gators, making it 14 straight years since they last won in Gainesville.

In some ways it was kind of amazing that the Dawgs managed to get to OT considering that they had to play the last 3:51 without their leading scorer, Yante Maten.  Maten fouled out vying for position underneath with a Florida player, his team up 64-59.  But without Yante on the court, the Gators were able to extend their defense so that they could key in on Frazier around the perimeter, and they limited UGA to just 3 points during this final stretch.  Overtime felt like more of a formality than anything since it seemed improbable that the Dawgs could actually outplay Florida for 5 minutes without Maten’s inside presence.

But moral victories aside, this loss was also incredibly frustrating for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, Georgia missed out on a chance to notch a serious NCAA tournament resume win on the road against a team with an RPI of 3.  At halftime, ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz repeated almost to the point of ad nauseam how important it was that Georgia get this game.

Second, the Dawgs once again played loose with the basketball, turning it over 18 times, and it cost them: Florida converted those turnovers into 22 points.  While the Gators did enter this game 18th in the nation in turnovers forced, that didn’t mean that UGA had to oblige and hand the ball over to them.  The Dawgs are now averaging just under 16 turnovers a game in conference play, which is third to last in the SEC in that category.

Also, at the end of this game Georgia failed to limit the Gators to just one shot on offense.  Florida collected 5 offensive rebounds over the final five and a half minutes (including OT), and they turned those boards into 4 of their final 14 points.  Let’s not forget that Florida guard Kasey Hill tied the game from the line at 67-67 after John Egbunu kept Hill’s previous missed free throw alive.  Derek Ogbeide led UGA with 10 rebounds on the afternoon, but he only managed 1 defensive board during this critical stretch of the game.  Florida only had 6 second chance points in the entire game, but unfortunately for Georgia the Gators collected the majority of them with the game on the line.

Finally, Georgia made too many bonehead plays to walk out of this one with a win.  The Dawgs committed three fouls on Florida shooters attempting three-pointers, and Canyon Barry turned two of them into four-point plays.  I would wager a large sum of money that no other team in the country today surrenders more than one 4-point play in a game.  I guess I have to at least credit the Dawgs for attempting to contest his shot, though, since twice on inbounds plays Mark Fox’s team left the youngest Barry wide open at the top of the key, where he buried both attempts.  Barry scored a season-high 27 points on the Dawgs this afternoon, connecting on 5 of his 8 three-point shots.

This was a winnable game for Georgia.  Despite Florida’s #23 ranking in the polls and their high RPI, this Gator team did not look nearly as scary as the ones that Billy Donovan fielded in the past.  I was expecting 40 minutes of full-court pressure from this highly regarded Florida defense, yet for much of the game the Gators seemed content to play half court man to man, which played to UGA’s strengths.  In the first half, the Dawgs pounded the ball inside and led the entire twenty minutes, taking a 1 point advantage into the break.  Georgia made more than 48% of their field goal attemtps, well above the team’s season average of 44%.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and the Dawgs are now 11-6 overall, and 3-2 in conference play. J.J. Frazier played well, scoring 25 points and dishing out 5 assists, but man would it have been epic if he could have sunk that shot at the end of regulation.  Juwan Park, who has been getting better and better since the start of the SEC season, netted 17 points to go along with his 7 boards.

Georgia has a few days to lick their wounds before playing host to a Vanderbilt team that just lost a close game at home to Kentucky.