Kentucky eliminates Georgia from the SEC Tournament (again)

Kentucky’s 62-49 win over Georgia (18-15) marked the 4th time in 5 years that Big Blue Nation has eliminated UGA from the SEC tournament.  Every one of those losses have prevented Georgia from earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  If an SEC team is on the bubble this time of year in March, a win over the Cats is an easy way to impress the committee. Unfortunately, Coach Mark Fox hasn’t found a way to get that done.  His Georgia teams have never beaten Kentucky away from Athens.  Coach Calipari is the proverbial hump that Fox just cannot seem to get over.

Is this a great Kentucky team that is destined to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? No.  They only have two players that would be considered dangerous scoring threats: Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  They don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the outside (under 35% on triples). However, they are long and athletic, and yesterday, the Cats were determined to play defense for 40 minutes, which turned out to be more than UGA could handle.

Kentucky’s match-up zone gave Georgia fits.  The Cats’ guards enforced their will upon the UGA backcourt, which resulted in Georgia having trouble getting into its sets since the offense was starting so far from the basket. The Dawgs struggled to get the ball inside to their bigs. Even when Yante Maten got touches, he was indecisive with the ball and allowed himself to be swarmed by Wildcat defenders.  Yante was held under double-figures in scoring for just the second time this season as he managed only 9 points in the loss yesterday on a 2 of 10 shooting performance.  Coach Calipari’s defensive scheme of taking away Maten worked so well that it didn’t even matter that his team couldn’t muster much on the offensive end.  UGA shot 28% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc; the Dawgs chunked up 23 three-point attempts, which is not a good look for this Georgia team.  UGA scored just 12 points in the paint to Kentucky’s 38; the Dawgs couldn’t find success on the block, so they settled for a multitude of perimeter shots. Game over.

The lone bright spot on offense for UGA was Tyree Crump, who snapped out of his recent shooting funk and knocked down 4 of his 8 three-point attempts en route to a career high 17 points.  The other Georgia guards were far less effective: Turtle Jackson (2 for 12), Teshaun Hightower (0 for 6).  If the UGA backcourt could have managed to knock down a few more three’s, it might have forced the Kentucky defense to pay less attention to Maten, but that’s been a running theme for the season.

Ultimately, Georgia is just not built to deal with a team of Kentucky’s caliber.  This UGA team showed a lot of fight the past two days, especially in the second round upset of Missouri, but once again the Dawgs were no match for a more athletic bunch of Wildcats.  UGA’s freshman simply do not resemble Kentucky’s; the Cats’ newbies are at a whole different level.  As long as Calipari reigns supreme in Lexington, Georgia is not going to be able to match up with his teams’ athleticism. The only way UGA ever starts beating Kentucky is if they can get more shooters on the roster, because that is and always has been the great equalizer in college basketball. For some reason, though, the UGA basketball program cannot seem to figure that out.


Georgia spoils return of Michael Porter, Jr. in 62-60 win over Missouri

The final stretch of this game lasted a lifetime.  After building up a 55-46 lead with 8:24 left, Georgia (18-14) scored only 3 more field goals the rest of the contest as Missouri’s defense put the clamps on the Dawgs. It felt like things were slipping away.  Mizzou couldn’t finish a layup to take the lead with Georgia up 61-60.  Rayshaun Hammonds snagged the Tiger miss and was immediately fouled, but the freshman only hit 1 of 2 from the line.  Then, Claxton seemingly saved UGA’s season with an offensive board off the Hammonds miss, but unfortunately he couldn’t convert either of his free throws.

I’d seen this movie before. I knew this wouldn’t end well for Georgia. With 7 seconds left, Mizzou in-bounded the ball and got it exactly where they wanted it – in the hands of a wide-open Kassius Robertson, who’s made over 43% of his three-point shots this year.  This was the moment where Georgia was supposed to lose.

Instead, Robertson’s shot went long and the ball was batted around a few times before time expired.  Dawgs win.

Georgia advances in a game that not many people had them pegged winning.  For starters, it was basically a home game for the Tigers.  Also, in case you’ve been living in a cave the past 48 hours, freshman phenom Michael Porter, Jr. returned to take on Georgia this afternoon. He scored 12 points, but it came at the expense of a 5 for 17 shooting performance from the floor.  After not playing a minute since the first game of the year, Porter entered today’s game and took more shots than any other Tiger player.  His presence obviously altered the chemistry of Coach Martin’s team. Mizzou guards Robertson and Jordan Barnett, who combined for 30 points a night this season, scored a total of 10 points between them this afternoon.

The Porter brother that proved to be the biggest thorn in Georgia’s side was Jontay, who scored 20 points (12 of which came from beyond the arc).  I shudder to think how badly their high school team must have throttled the competition in Columbia the past few years.

Just an all around gutty effort by the Bulldogs.  Mizzou jumped on Georgia early as they built a 10-0 lead in a little over 5 minutes of game time.  UGA failed to wither, though. Rather, the Dawgs responded with a 19-2 run of their own and found themselves leading 19-12 with under 7 minutes left in the half following a jumper by Teshaun Hightower.  Georgia would hold Mizzou to just 24% from the floor prior to the break, and the Dawgs headed to the locker room with a 33-24 lead.

Hightower once again provided the Dawgs with a big spark off the bench.  The freshman scored 11 of his 13 points before the intermission; he also hauled in 7 rebounds.  Hightower is unafraid to take the ball to the basket, and it’s been a refreshing sight to see him scoring around the rim as UGA hasn’t gotten much of that kind of production from its backcourt this season.

Despite being hounded with double-teams all game, Yante Maten still logged a double-double as he scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.  Maten’s ability to draw contact on the inside was a big factor in both of Mizzou’s starting bigs – Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tillmon – fouling out.  Yante did struggle offensively over the final 2 minutes as he missed all 3 of his field goal attempts, but the Georgia big man did knock down a huge jumper from the wing on an in-bounds play that gave UGA a 61-57 advantage with 3:29 left.

Up next for Georgia is Kentucky, a team that Mark Fox has never beaten outside of Athens.  Should UGA manage another upset on Friday, they will certainly take a big step closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.



SEC Tournament: the win over Vandy and looking ahead to Mizzou

Quick recap

A review of Vanderbilt’s first 7 possessions last night: miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss and miss.  Let’s just say that Georgia (17-14) set the tone on defense early on in this one. Before the game, Juwan Parker highlighted that his team had been focused on defending the perimeter better than they did in Nashville against the Commodores.  In the first meeting between these two teams, Vandy knocked down 11 triples.  Last night, the ‘Dores had just 2 three-pointers by halftime, and they would finish with only 8 (on 23 attempts), which was below their season SEC average of 10 per night.  Georgia held Vandy to under 28% from the floor heading into the intermission.

UGA’s defensive intensity carried over to the offense side of the ball as well. The Dawgs looked like a well-oiled machine from the opening tip.  When Vandy showed man, Georgia pounded the ball inside to its bigs, who either finished at the rim or found open shooters on the perimeter.  If the ‘Dores went into zone, UGA calmly worked the ball around until they located the soft spots.  Where was this team all season?  Georgia hit 5 of its 9 shots from beyond the arc, shot 53% from the floor and dished out 10 team assists before the intermission.  The Dawgs committed just 2 turnovers prior to the break, and they had six different players with at least 4 points as they headed to the locker room with a comfortable 43-22 advantage.

Losing big leads in the second half of SEC games has sort of been a mantra for this UGA team all year, but the Dawgs were having none of that last night. Vandy hit a couple three’s coming out of the half and seemed to be making a run at UGA as they cut the lead to 43-29 with 18:15 left, but Georgia quickly squashed those hopes by responding with a 14-4 run of its own that bolstered the Dawgs’ advantage back up to 57-33 with over 13 minutes remaining. Coach Mark Fox’s team would go into cruise control mode for the remainder of the game, and Georgia earned a 78-62 first round victory.

Players that need highlighting

Maybe Yante Maten needed that smack to the jaw from Tennessee’s Grant Williams to help snap him out of last week’s funk when the Georgia big shot just 10 of 33 from the floor in two games.  Against Vandy, Maten embodied the SEC Player of the Year as he scored 25 points on a 9 for 12 effort from the floor.  He knocked down a pair of three’s in the first half, and he handled the Vandy double-teams efficiently all game as he either spun away from the doubling defender or found an open teammate.  The Georgia senior, who usually displays a range of emotions when he’s got things cooking on offense, appeared rather focused (almost business-like) in the win over the ‘Dores.  Yante looked like a player that is not ready for his college basketball career to end just yet.

Coach Mark Fox got big minutes from two of his freshman last night: Rayshaun Hammonds and Teshaun Hightower.  In the loss at Vandy, Hammonds had a forgettable game in which he went 0 for 5 from the floor and struggled to scored inside against smaller Commodore defenders.  Last night, however, the freshman had no trouble taking advantage in the paint against Riley LaChance and any of the other Vandy guards that were stuck in a mismatch against him.  Hammonds finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds, and his best bucket came off of an attempted double by Vandy that he avoided by spinning quickly to his left and finishing off the glass.  Hammonds has now scored in double-figures in 5 of the last 8 games, and he is starting to live up to some of the hype that followed him from high school.

For whatever reason, Teshaun Hightower logged only 1 minute of play at Tennessee last weekend, which was a head-scratcher considering he played arguably his best game of the season the game before in Athens against TAMU.  Last night, though, Fox gave the freshman 21 minutes of court time, and Hightower took advantage as he scored 13 points and dished out 6 assists.  His aggression and size at the point position gives Georgia a guard that can drive the ball into the paint and attack the rim.  Hightower also knocked down a pair of triples, which is an area of his game that has improved dramatically over the course of the year.  He began the season just 1 of 11 from beyond the arc in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but he’s now made nearly 38% of his three-point attempts in SEC games.  Hightower is giving this Georgia team something it desperately needs: another outside scoring threat.

Up next: Mizzou

The return of future NBA lottery pick Michael Porter, Jr. dominated all story lines yesterday surrounding this tournament. Since getting injured 2 minutes into the opening game against Iowa State, the freshman hasn’t played again. After the game last evening, Coach Fox joked that he had seen so little of Porter that he wasn’t even sure what position he played.

This game definitely presents quite a challenge for Georgia.  They already lost to Mizzou at their place earlier in the year, and this contest is being played in St. Louis, which is in Missouri’s backyard, so this game will have a home atmosphere feel to it for the Tigers.  Porter’s return only adds to the hype.

However, I do feel that Porter coming back does give UGA a slight advantage. He’s been practicing for 2 weeks now, but practice is WAY different than a game, just ask Allen Iverson.  As good as he may be, there’s no way his return doesn’t disrupt Mizzou’s chemistry.  How aggressive will he be? Will he press to score points? How will the guys who have stepped up and played in his absence respond to their reduced roles?  All of these questions are good things for UGA.  Couple those uncertainties with the fact that Georgia has already played and won on the tournament court, and I think the Dawgs have an outside shot at spoiling Porter’s return to college basketball.

Dawgs fall flat in second half against Vols

The last play of the game was actually designed for Tyree Crump.  While the ball was being in-bounded to Turtle Jackson, Yante Maten attempted to set a high screen to free up Crump, but Tyree’s man went over the top and denied Crump the ball.  Georgia needed 3 points and there were only 5 seconds left, so Turtle hoisted up a shot from well beyond the arc that didn’t come close, and UGA lost for the second time in a week.

The Dawgs didn’t lose to Tennessee on that last play, though. Georgia only scored 19 points after the intermission as they shot 29% from the floor and 1 of 6 from the perimeter.  UGA gave the ball away 9 times in the second half, and Tennessee converted Georgia’s turnovers into 13 points.

Yante Maten, who’s faced two of the premier bigs in the SEC this week in TAMU’s Robert Williams III and Tennessee’s Grant Williams, had another tough night offensively.  Maten scored 18 points, but those points came at the expense of a 5 for 15 shooting effort. That makes Yante 10 for 33 from the floor this week; I can’t imagine there is a player in the league that’s more determined to play well in the SEC Tournament next week.  Much like in the game against TAMU, Maten missed shots around the rim that he’s knocked down consistently all season.  Conversely, Williams had a monster game inside as he scored 22 points before fouling out with over 3 minutes remaining.  He is a load inside and plays with a lot of physicality, which clearly wore on Maten because UGA’s big man, much like on Wednesday night, appeared to be exhausted down the stretch.  Or maybe it’s this season that is wearing down Maten.

The first half came out of nowhere.  After the disappointing letdown earlier in the week to TAMU, I was shocked at how poised Georgia looked for the first 20 minutes of this one.  There were no signs of a hangover from the TAMU loss whatsoever.  The Dawgs had just 2 turnovers before the break, they shot 53% from the floor, and they hit 7 of 12 from the perimeter.  Tennessee began the game in a full-court man press, but Georgia looked unfazed. The Dawgs got into a stacked set that allowed Hammonds to flash the middle and receive the ball so that he could then hand it off to Turtle to bring down the court.  Easy, peasy, right?  This didn’t look anything like the UGA team that has struggled to make outside shots and move the ball efficiently against a press; this looked like an NCAA Tournament team.  Georgia had maybe its best possession of the season late in the half: Maten drove, kicked it to Hammonds in the corner, who swung it to Turtle on the wing, who found Crump on the opposite wing, where he buried a triple.  The Dawgs had 8 team assists before halftime, and they went into the locker room with a 42-34 advantage.

Random thoughts:

-Even though Crump’s turnover with 39 seconds left and Georgia trailing 62-61 proved to be costly, I was pleased to see Fox sticking with him down the stretch.  Crump played great off the bench before the break as he hit two triples and scored at the rim on a drive from the top of the key – I’d almost forgotten what it looked like to have a Georgia guard score on a dribble-drive.  Crump’s first half performance obviously caught the attention of Vols coach Rick Barnes because he had his defenders playing full-on deny on Tyree out of the their man defense.  If Georgia had another guard that could penetrate and get into the lane, they might have been better equipped to take advantage of Tennessee’s lack of help defense on the perimeter.

-After scoring 10 points on Wednesday night against TAMU and playing what were arguably his best minutes to date as a Bulldog, Teshaun Hightower logged just 1 minute in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.  That can be explained by…

-Admiral Schoefield and Grant Williams combined for just 16 points in the Vols’ loss in Athens last month. Yesterday, the two Tennessee bigs contributed 45 of their team’s 66 total points, and Schoefield hit a huge shot with less than 30 seconds left that bolstered his team’s lead to 64-61.

-Georgia concludes the season with a 16-14 record overall, and they finished 7-11 in the SEC.  That’s the Dawgs worst conference record under Coach Fox since the 2011-2012 season in which Georgia went 5-11 in the league before being knocked out of the SEC Tourney in the first round by Vanderbilt, who UGA plays on Wednesday night in St. Louis.

-I checked the weather forecast for St. Louis for the next 10 days: it’s going to be cold, cloudy and there might be some scattered rain.  A decade ago, Georgia won the SEC Tournament and saved Coach Dennis Felton’s job for another season with a lot of help from a tornado that ripped through Atlanta and forced the games to be played at Georgia Tech in front of players’ families only.  The Dawgs could certainly use some sort of similar natural intervention if they are going to win this week’s conference tourney, but it doesn’t look like another tornado is in the cards.

uga utut uga



Georgia loses 61-60 at home in physical game

The ending

With the Dawgs trailing 61-60 with only 12 seconds left and T.J. Starks at the line for the Aggies shooting a one-and-one, the casual onlooker might expect that Coach Mark Fox would be telling his guys to either A) call timeout if he misses or B) get the ball across halfcourt and THEN call timeout.  Neither of those phrases was uttered, however, and Georgia’s Teshaun Hightower pushed the ball up the right side of the court following Starks’s miss and took it right to a well-covered Juwan Parker (who had a well-covered Tyree Crump right next to him).  Parker managed to force up a desperation attempt, but it fell way short, and UGA let a critical late-season game slip through their fingertips.

The reason why Georgia should have called a timeout to set something up is fairly obvious: Hightower is a freshman.  He isn’t battled tested yet, and he doesn’t have any significant late game experience.  Hence, why he took the ball to an already crowded side of the court.  A set play would have at least given Georgia better spacing on their final possession.

UGA’s backcourt

I cannot fault Hightower, though, for his indecision during the waning seconds.  He gave Fox some incredibly big minutes off the bench as the freshman scored 11 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished out 4 assists.  Yes, he did have a costly turnover against the Texas A&M press that allowed the Aggies to take a 61-60 advantage on the ensuing possession.  But again, he’s a freshman, and he’s going to make mistakes.  I’m positive he will never make that same mistake again as long as he’s donning the Red and Black.  Hightower’s aggression on offense is something that Georgia’s sorely been lacking from the point guard position this year, and it was refreshing to see the TAMU defenders backpedaling when he brought the ball across halfcourt.  Against Turtle Jackson, and even sometimes Crump, the TAMU guards, specifically Starks, were pushing the Georgia guards well beyond the three-point line, which made it difficult for the Dawgs to get into any sort of offensive rhythm.

The UGA backcourt once again failed this team defensively.  The freshman Starks drove the ball to the basket with little resistance all night.  I was shocked to learn that he only averages 9 points a game; he scored 15 against the Dawgs, and I would have guessed that was around or slightly below his average considering how easily he scored around the rim.  Even more shocking: Starks was a 3-star recruit.  Whoever evaluated and offered him on the Aggie staff deserves a steak dinner because he looks like he’s going to be a load to deal with in the SEC for a few years to come.

D.J. Hogg, who was right around his average with 11 points, had little trouble getting around Rayshaun Hammonds when he wanted to take the ball into the lane.  The Aggies outscored Georgia in the paint 34-16, and I’d wager that more than half of those buckets came from the TAMU guards.  Considering how little production that UGA gets from the guard position, it’s a shame that the Dawgs’ backcourt hasn’t defended better this season.

Maten struggles

I definitely feel for Yante Maten as I’m positive this was not how he envisioned his last game in Athens unfolding. Maten had 16 points and 12 rebounds, but it came at the expense of a 5 for 18 shooting performance.  He either had Tyler Davis or Robert Williams (both of who are monsters) leaning on him the whole night, and any time he received the ball on the block a guard came down immediately to double.  By the end of the game, Maten appeared to be exhausted. He missed a number of shots around the basket that he normally converts in his sleep, and he hit just 4 of 8 from the free throw line, which I attribute to tired legs.

Substitution patterns

Last weekend, Georgia put up a season-high 93 points in their romp of LSU, and Fox only played 8 different players.  That obviously didn’t sit well with the coach as he ran 11 different guys into the game last night.  I thought Mike Edwards time was done; I guess I was wrong. In a mere 2 minutes, Edwards fouled a TAMU player shooting a triple, and then he dribbled the ball into a turnover in the paint on offense (why was he dribbling in the paint in the first place?). E’Torrion Wilridge played all 13 of his minutes before the intermission; he scored 3 points. Wilridge never saw the floor again after halftime, which led me to wonder why he played so much in the first half.  I’ve asked this same question so many times this season.  Since Georgia’s not that good of a team, I just can’t seem to grasp why Fox continues to play so many players, but at least I know I’m not alone in this line of thinking.