The Georgia Bulldogs (4-1) took their first loss of the season in the second round of the Wooden Legacy as they fell 75-68 to the San Diego State Aztecs (5-1). Prior to the game it was reported that five to six Dawgs had suffered from food poisoning, and backup center Mike Edwards was so unwell that he remained at the team’s hotel. How big a factor UGA’s intestinal issues played in this one, we’ll never know. Georgia did get its first taste of legitimate competition for the year, and here are some observations:
One of the knocks against Coach Mark Fox during his 9 year tenure at Georgia has been the rigidity of his offensive sets. Despite having what he deemed before the start of the season as his best team yet, it appears that the Dawgs may once again be handicapped by an offensive system that tends to stifle pace and creativity. Georgia’s had two point guards over the past decade – Gerald Robinson, Jr. and J.J. Frazier – that were so gifted at getting the ball to the rim that even Fox’s “triangle offense” couldn’t contain them. Not surprisingly, both of UGA’s trips to the NCAA tournament during Fox’s time at the helm came in years when these young men were donning the Red and Black.
This season, Georgia doesn’t have an explosive point guard, and the offense, especially last night, looks lost. Against SDSU, a typical UGA possession ran like this: dribble or pass the ball around the perimeter for 24 seconds before someone hurried to get an off-balanced shot up. The strength of this Bulldog team lies in its formidable frontcourt, yet the Dawgs only scored 18 points in the paint (to the Aztecs 34). I can recall on one hand possessions in which the ball was actually passed to a Georgia big on the block. The Dawgs had just 2 fast break points, which came on a bucket from Teshaun Hightower that tied the game at 53 with a little over 9 minutes left.
Yante Maten had 17 points, but it came at the expense of a 4 for 15 shooting effort and 5 turnovers. Life is going to increasingly difficult for Maten on the block because he’s going to continue to see the convergence on him by opposing defenses, but they will just be bigger and more athletic.
The lone bright spot thus far regarding the Dawgs’ trip to California has to be the emergence of Turtle Jackson as a scoring threat. Turtle scored 17 points against SDSU, once again breaking a career high in points from the previous game. Maybe even more important is the fact that Jackson hit 4 three-pointers, and he’s now established himself as the Dawgs most consistent shooter from the perimeter, where he’s making nearly 43% of his attempts on the year. Fox is going to need to adjust his offense to include more sets in which Maten and Jackson are on the same side so that they can play some inside/out as well as some screen and roll.
As a team, Georgia shot just 38% against the Aztecs, and no other players finished in double-figures.
UGA played its best basketball of the season to start this contest. For the first 8 minutes, the Dawgs’ defense forced SDSU into a number of quick shots, and the Aztecs began the game just 2 of 14 from the floor, which enabled Georgia to jump out to a 16-4 lead with 12:05 left in the first half.
Even though SDSU lost its leading scorer Malik Pope for over 15 minutes prior to the intermission due to foul trouble, the Dawgs were unable to maintain the intensity on the defensive side of the ball. The Aztec guards consistently got into the lane against Georgia’s backcourt, which led to a number of easy buckets. SDSU had a much easier time getting points in the paint than UGA, which is probably why they ended up with 34 of them. Unfortunately, the Dawgs fell back into a lackadaisical mindset defensively during the final stretch of game: after taking a 64-63 advantage following a three by Turtle with 3:43 left, Georgia allowed the Aztecs to reel off 9 unanswered points and take a commanding 72-64 lead with only 1:42 remaining.
UGA failed to protect the defensive glass as they yielded 18 offensive rebounds to the Aztecs; SDSU turned those boards into 15 second-chance points.
Confusing substitution patterns by Fox
Another hallmark of the Mark Fox Era has been his proclivity to substitute his players in and out of games relentlessly, which has led some to question whether his guys are getting enough time on the court to either build chemistry with teammates or find some sort of offensive rhythm themselves. Pape Diatta, who did not leave the bench on Thursday night, earned 12 minutes of playing time on Friday. It’s been feast or famine this year for Diatta as he’s averaged nearly 10 minutes in three games and he’s failed to remove his warm up in the other two.
Freshman Teshaun Hightower, who in the first few games appeared poised to possibly ascend into the team’s reserve point guard role, also failed to log a minute against Cal State-Fullerton; however, he played 8 productive minutes against SDSU in which he scored 4 points, dished out 2 assists and grabbed 3 boards.
Both Hightower and fellow freshman, Nicolas Claxton, were on the floor during the final stretch of this one. Claxton, who played maybe his best game yet (7 points, 7 boards, 3 blocks), was finally subbed out with 1:26 left for started Derek Ogbeide.
I’m no basketball expert, but typically coaches like to have their best five players, or the starters, on the court at the end of close games unless one or more of them is dealing with foul trouble, which wasn’t the case for Georgia on Friday. Yet, Fox kept starters E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide on the bench with 4 minutes remaining and his team trailing 63-61. If those two players are part of the five that Fox deems the best to start a game, wouldn’t it make sense to have them on the court when it counts? Otherwise, why on earth are they starting (particularly Wilridge)?
I realize that I have only questions and no answers here, but the manner in which Fox manages his lineups continues to confound me.
Georgia returns to action Sunday when they take on #21 Saint Mary’s in the tournament’s third place game.