The first half was close to perfection offensively for the Georgia Bulldogs (11-3, 2-1) on Saturday against the Alabama Crimson Tide (9-6, 1-2). The second half? Meh. While the offense slowed down over the second 20 minutes, the one thing that remained consistent for the Dawgs against the Tide today was defense, which won the afternoon for Mark Fox’s team.
Here’s what Mark Fox said about it:
“Our defense was very good. They have a very talented team, and obviously the leading scorer in the league in Collin Sexton. And he was good. We didn’t hold him below his average so I’m not going to say we played great defense against him. But our team defense was very solid today, and was one of the keys to the win.”
The Bulldogs brought an incredible amount of effort to the defensive side of the ball Saturday. The Dawgs stayed in front of the Alabama ball-handlers all afternoon. Georgia held an Alabama team that entered today’s contest averaging 77 points a game to just 45 in Athens. The Tide’s aggressive backcourt, led by freshman Collin Sexton, is very good at getting to the free throw line. Mater of fact, prior to today’s match-up, they were taking 25 free throws per contest; however, this afternoon UGA only allowed Bama to get up 11 shots from the charity stripe.
Even though Collin Sexton got his points – 23 – which is slightly above his season average of 20.4 ppg, the key for Fox’s team is that they managed to hold the rest of his teammates in check. Scoring has not been a problem for Bama this year as they have 3 more players on top of Sexton that average in double-figures, yet he was the only one to eclipse that mark today (to be fair, Dazon Ingram did not play and he gets 11.1 ppg). John Petty, who had made 39 three-pointers coming into the game, hit just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc and finished with only 3 points.
The Tide shot under 30% from the floor and just 17% from the perimeter, and a big reason for their ineptitude was due to the tempo of this game. Georgia set the pace of this contest early on and the slower game frustrated an Alabama team that likes to push the ball on every possession and get shots up quickly. Avery Johnson tried to speed up the game in the first half with a full-court trap press, but Georgia ate it up, particularly well on a play when E’Torrian Wilridge brought the ball up the right side only to find a trailing Yante Maten dashing through the lane for a wide-open two-handed dunk.
Let’s talk a bit more about that first half. If Georgia has played a better half of offense under Coach Fox against an opponent of this caliber someone will have to remind me because I cannot recall one. The Dawgs were so composed as they moved the ball in and out of the Bama zone. Georgia fed the ball inside to the bigs and scored 8 of its first 11 points in the paint. When the Tide started to clamp down on the blocks, UGA made the extra passes to the perimeter and absolutely lit up Avery Johnson’s team. Georgia’s passing was just so efficient in the first half, and UGA ended up with 15 team assists on the day. The Dawgs made 8 of 16 from beyond the arc prior to the break with 4 of them coming from Yante Maten, who finished the game in double-double land with 26 points and 11 boards. Rayshaun Hammonds, who scored all 13 of his points before the intermission, hit 2 three’s as well and made a grown man’s post move on the right block on Georgia’s second possession.
The second half did not look like the first for UGA. Alabama’s press started to frustrate Georgia’s guards and led to 9 second-half turnovers by the Dawgs. Even when Georgia got the ball past half court, they played rushed offensively. They didn’t resemble the same team that shot over 48% from the floor, scored 44 points and dished out 12 assists in the first half. UGA had a particularly inept stretch in the second half in which the Dawgs went without a field goal for nearly 6 minutes before Nicolas Claxton buried a three-pointer from the top of the key that put his team up 57-34 with 10:24 left in the game. Again, even though the offense took the second half off, the defense did not and that’s how Georgia managed to pull off this blowout at home.
Despite the lackluster final 20 minutes, this win was huge for Georgia. Just ask the AJC’s Seth Emerson:
Georgia basketball team will now have four wins over teams currently in the RPI top 50: Temple (38), Alabama (39), st. Mary’s (43) and Marquette (50). Georgia entered ranked 51.
— Seth Emerson (@SethWEmerson) January 6, 2018
If the Dawgs can continue to play half court-paced games, they will be a tough team to beat since Yante Maten is just so difficult for opposing teams to handle. The guy is a double-double machine with 7 on the year already, and as he showed today, he can score from a lot of different places. The UGA guards are not a strength of the team, but they can be effective enough as long as the game’s being played at a slower tempo.
The Dawgs next game will be this Wednesday at Missouri.