The Georgia Bulldogs (9-2) have just two losses on the season: one to a San Diego State team with an RPI in the low 50s that just knocked off #12 Gonzaga, and the other to a mediocre UMass team. At the time, the game against the Minutemen seemed to have exposed a host of weaknesses harbored by Georgia on both the offensive and defensive ends. Now, however, that loss seems more like an anomaly.
Today, the Dawgs played probably their most complete game of the season in UGA’s utter domination of a Temple Owl squad that rolled into Athens sporting a lofty RPI of 11. This game was Temple’s first regular season game ever inside the state of Georgia, and I’m pretty sure the Owls aren’t eager to come back anytime soon after what transpired inside Stegeman on Friday. Georgia’s defense, which has become the strength of this team, set the tone early with an aggressive man-to-man approach. The Owls had no answer for the UGA pressure as Temple seemed content to stand around and play isolation basketball for much of the first half. The Owls’ strategy might have been more effective if they had a few NBA prospects on their roster, but unfortunately for Temple coach Fran Dunphy they do not, and all that happened was his team was forced into a lot of hurried looks.
After jumping out to a 7-2 lead with just under 16 minutes left before the intermission, Temple scored only 2 points in over the next 8 minutes and found themselves down 19-9 with 7:23 remaining. The Owls shot less than 31% from the floor prior to the break, and they quickly became the victims of a blowout as they entered the half trailing Georgia 43-24.
Temple shot the ball better in the second half, but the Dawgs still limited them to under 40% from the field on the afternoon. Georgia is now 44th in the nation in team field goal percentage defense, where they are holding opponents to just 39.7% from the floor. Temple’s Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr. entered this contest averaging a combined 33 ppg; today they scored only 15 on a combined shooting effort of 6 for 26. The only Owl that provided Georgia with any trouble was Obi Enechionya, who scored 27 points (21 of them coming from beyond the arc).
Just like in the Tech game, Georgia’s frontcourt dominated the glass, out-rebounding Temple by a tally of 32-18. UGA is now 38th in the country in rebounding margin as they are snagging over 7 more boards a night than their opposition.
As good as the defense was on Friday, the Georgia offense was not to be outdone. Coach Fox’s team deliberately pounded the ball inside from the start, and Georgia got 34 of its 80 points in the paint. Yante Maten was unstoppable as he posted another double-double in which he scored 30 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Maten also did a phenomenal job of handling the Temple double-teams as he patiently found his teammates when the Owl defenders approached him. Georgia reversed the ball around the perimeter consistently this afternoon, which resulted in the Dawgs getting several easy dunks on beautiful entry passes from the top of the key. Georgia shot over 47% on its field goal attempts, and UGA had 14 team assists; they now have 31 in the past two games.
Young Nicolas Claxton played his best game yet in Athens as he just missed a double-double on a 14 point, 9 rebound effort; Claxton had several dunks that were unfairly cruel to the Stegeman rims. Hopefully Claxton has finally shown Fox that he is ready to take over the majority of Mike Edwards’s minutes.
After building up the large halftime advantage, Georgia coasted unimpeded for most of the afternoon. Midway through the second half, Temple threatened to close the gap when they cut the UGA advantage to 54-40 with 10:53 left on a tip-in by De’Vondre Perry. Maten missed a jumper on the next possession, but Rayshaun Hammonds kept it alive on the glass and eventually Claxton came down with the offensive board and was fouled. After making the first free throw, he missed the second, but Maten snared the offensive board and wound up at the line himself where he promptly buried both free throws.
On the ensuing UGA possession, Turtle Jackson sunk a three-pointer from the wing, and then he canned another jumper from the baseline the next trip down that bolstered the Georgia advantage back up to 62-43 with 9:19 remaining. This response by Georgia had to be demoralizing for Temple, and it felt like the game was over at this point.
SEC play begins on New Year’s Eve in Lexington as the Dawgs have the daunting task of taking on perennial league powerhouse, Kentucky. However, Georgia should be riding a nice wave of momentum into that contest after back-to-back impressive performances against Georgia Tech and Temple. This is also the earliest in the season that the Dawgs have played Kentucky in a while, and that’s definitely a positive for Georgia. Coach John Calipari’s teams at Kentucky typically don’t play their best basketball until around the time the SEC Tournament approaches as it takes the young squads time to learn how to play with one another.
If UGA ever had a chance to steal a win inside Rupp Arena, this is it. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to end 2017?