Dawgs end 2018 on a high note with a 91-72 win over UMass

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A year ago, UMass (7-6) bested Georgia (8-4) 72-62 in Amherst in a game in which the Minutemen hit 12 three-pointers. In that game, UMass blew the doors off UGA from the start and went into the intermission with a commanding 43-24 advantage.

Tom Crean’s team was having none of that business in Athens this evening. UMass hung around for a bit in the first half and kept things moderately close, but for the most part the Dawgs handled the Minutemen with relative ease in a game that Georgia led the entire way.

Georgia’s defensive pressure and length frustrated the Minutemen. Sure, Luwane Pipkins scored 22 points, but he shot just 7 of 20 from the floor, and he missed on all 8 of his three-point attempts. Pipkins scored 10 points prior to the intermission, and he looked as if he could get to the rim whenever he wanted. Turns out, however, it didn’t matter because he was the only player on UMass capable of threatening the Dawgs. Unlike last year’s game, UMass made only 4 triples against Georgia in this one, and they shot just 18% in doing so.

The Minutemen attempted to ramp up the tempo in the second half with some full-court pressure, but UGA seemed unphased as the Dawgs simply let their 6’11” center, Nicolas Claxton, bring the ball up the court. Problem solved. I’m still not really sure of the intent of the UMass press since it didn’t seem to affect the Dawgs in the slightest.

Georgia took a 43-32 lead into the half after Rayshaun Hammonds sunk an off-balanced triple from the corner with time winding down. After making less than 29% of this three-point attempts a year ago, Hammonds is now shooting over 46% from beyond the arc on the year. He definitely looks much more comfortable playing on the wing this year; too many possessions last season Hammonds was forced to work off the block, which may not be the most effective spot for him to receive the ball. Hammonds is definitely more a stretch 4 or even a 3 rather than a traditional big, and the sophomore looked the part this evening as he finished tonight’s game with 18 points to go along with 8 boards.

I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I cannot get over how much Nicolas Claxton continues to get better and better as the year progresses. As mentioned above, he’s now bringing the ball up on the press break. Claxton can guard every position on the court; he got isolated on Pipkins in the second half, and managed to not only keep the speedy point guard in front of him, but Claxton just went ahead and blocked his three-point attempt. The Slim Reaper led Georgia with 20 points and 11 rebounds en route to ANOTHER double-double (that’s 6 on the season), and he’s easily been the best player on the court in all three of UGA’s recent victories.

Georgia closes out 2018 with wins over Georgia Tech and UMass, and the Dawgs are really just one meltdown of a second half away from being on a six-game win streak. Claxton isn’t the only one improving; the Dawgs as a team are getting better. Like Hammonds, Tyree Crump is also converting more of his perimeter attempts this season. Today, Crump scored 14 points on a 3 for 5 effort from beyond the arc, and he is hitting over 40% of his three-point shots on the season.

UGA opens up SEC play this Saturday in Knoxville. With the start of the conference slate, everything is about to get more difficult for Georgia. Teams are going to apply tons of pressure to UGA’s backcourt in an effort to exploit the Dawgs’ lack of a true point guard. Georgia is going to struggle, but they are also going to surprise some people.

I’m super excited to see these potential matchups on Saturday: Grant Williams/Claxton and Admiral Schofield/Hammonds. A month ago, I would have assumed the Vols would blow Georgia out in this one. Now, I’m not so sure.

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Dawgs upend Tech in Atlanta

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One week removed from its collapse at home to Arizona State, Georgia (7-4) appeared on the verge of gifting away another double-digit lead in Atlanta to archrival, Georgia Tech. With UGA leading by 4 and only 3:58 remaining, Nicolas Claxton snagged a miss by Teshaun Hightower and threw it down for two huge second chance points. Not to be outdone by himself, Claxton grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end before hitting a dagger from the wing that put the Dawgs up 9 with only 2:32 left.

The Jackets threatened one final comeback after Brandon Alston drilled a three-pointer to make it 57-51 UGA advantage with 2:10 remaining, but Tyree Crump diffused any hopes of a Tech run by knocking down a triple himself on the next possession for Georgia, and the Dawgs cruised to their 4th straight win over the Jackets with a 70-59 victory in Atlanta on Saturday.

The Dawgs’ defense stole the show this afternoon, though, as Georgia took Tech out of its offense time and time again. The Jackets looked ill-equipped to deal with UGA’s presence inside, as Nicolas Claxton blocked 6 shots and altered a dozen others. Tech shot under 27% in the first half and ended up at barely over 32% on the game. At the intermission, the Jackets had mustered just 19 points.

While Georgia’s bigs definitely redirected a plethora of Yellow Jacket shot attempts, a big defensive shoutout must go to Teshaun Hightower and the UGA guards for how they defended Tech’s leading scorer, Jose Alvarado. Alvarado, who entered this game netting over 14 a night, scored 11 points, but it took him a 3 of 20 shooting effort to get there. Hightower did an admiral job of staying in front of him all afternoon and forcing him into an array of challenging shots.

Tom Crean was brought to UGA to boost the offensive output, but today’s showing in Atlanta made it pretty clear that this team is slowly gaining a resolute defensive identity as well, and much of that starts with Claxton. The guy is simply everywhere on the court all at once. In addition to his half-dozen blocks, the sophomore also contributed 13 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Claxton’s ability to bring the ball up the court off of defensive rebounds helps to ramp up the tempo and effectiveness of Georgia’s offense; if he keeps up this level of play once the SEC slate begins in January, Claxton is going to be awful hard to keep off of the postseason All-SEC First Team.

In the grand scheme of the college basketball landscape, this game was fairly meaningless. Both of these squads were projected to finish 13th in their respective conferences. But within the state of Georgia, this game was a huge statement for Tom Crean in his first dip into the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate matchup. Moving forward, if the Dawgs can continue to learn how to close out games, this team will be a difficult out in the SEC.

Dawgs rebound with an 81-69 win over Oakland

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Just three days removed from the Arizona State game, a game in which Georgia (6-4) blew a 17-point lead, the Dawgs returned to action against much less formidable competition in the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The GG’s sputtered into Athens boasting a 4-7 record and an RPI of 262, AND they’ve replaced all five starters from a year ago, which makes them the third greenest team in college basketball.

Sometimes I struggle to come up with commentary on games that the Dawgs SHOULD win handedly; plus, as Jay Bilas commonly says on Twitter, “I gotta go to work”, so here are my quick takeaways from last night’s contest.

1 The most effective way to get a team out of a zone is to shoot the lights out, and UGA did just that during the first half on Tuesday night. Oakland switched into a 1-3-1 early, and the Dawgs took advantage from the perimeter as they hit 8 shots from beyond the arc prior to the intermission; Turtle Jackson led the way with 4 triples himself, and Tyree Crump chipped in a pair as well. I was shocked that Oakland coach Greg Kampe stubbornly kept his team in this defensive look for as long as he did, and Tom Crean’s team happily took the open looks and converted them into a 45-34 halftime advantage.

2 Coach Crean said after Saturday’s loss that his team has to learn to finish games, and after watching last night’s contest, apparently that’s still a work in progress. Oakland applied man pressure for much of the second half, and UGA’s shot selection started to become less favorable as the Dawgs made just 2 of 13 from the perimeter in the game’s final 20 minutes. Also, part of finishing games is actually having your starters on the court to finish them. Similarly to the game on Saturday, Derek Ogbeide missed significant time due to foul trouble (against ASU, Rayshaun Hammonds was on the bench for accumulating too many personal fouls as well). Ogbeide needs to be reminded of just how thin this team’s frontcourt is this year, and that it’s imperative that he be able to play more than 3 minutes following halftime. The Dawgs suffer defensively without their senior big on the floor, and last night was no different as Oakland’s Xavier-Hills Mais scored 13 of his 21 following intermission, and the GG’s made 6 triples due to UGA’s defense having to rotate and overcompensate for the weaker interior defenders.

3 Nicolas Claxton, who is becoming an absolute stat-stuffer, assumed the role of “Go-to guy” in the crucial final portion of this game. With a little under 5 minutes left, Georgia held a slim 66-64 advantage over Oakland, and this contest was nowhere near assured for UGA. Claxton asserted himself by establishing position in the paint, and the sophomore scored 5 points and snagged 2 boards in less than a minute. Teshaun Hightower chipped in a pair of buckets as well, and with 2 minutes left, UGA had a 76-64 lead that they would not relinquish. Claxton did not have his best shooting effort of the year (4 of 12), but he simply seems to be everywhere on the court: 17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal.

The Dawgs have a few days to chill before heading to Atlanta to take on rival Georgia Tech at high noon.

After opening up big halftime lead, Georgia loses heartbreaker to Arizona State

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Leads are not safe when it comes to Georgia Bulldog (5-4) athletics. Nicolas Claxton’s last-second attempt to tie the game drew nothing but air, and Arizona State snuck out of Athens with a 76-74 win in a game that they led for just a little over two minutes.

The Dawgs’ final possession was questionable, at best. I’m going to err on the side of Tom Crean and venture that he did not call a timeout to tell his team to inbounds the ball to Claxton so that he could go the length of the court against future NBA lottery pick Luguentz Dort.  Unfortunately, thought, that’s how it played out, and Georgia, not surprisingly, came up short in a game that it led by 14 points at halftime.

Georgia’s defense for the first twenty minutes was unrecognizable from anything we’ve seen from this team this year.  UGA’s guards stayed in front of the Sun Devil guards (for the most part), and everyone that Crean ran onto the court closed out with a sense of purpose on every ASU player that received the ball.  The Dawgs limited the Sun Devils to just 32% from the floor (just 16% from beyond the arc) in the first half. Luguentz Dort, who entered the game netting 22 a night, had only 5 points through the first 20 minutes of play.

UGA’s leading scorers – Rayshaun Hammonds, Nic Claxton and Tyree Crump – played superb from the start.  Hammonds hit a pair of triples, and he had the Sun Devils on their heels defensively as he attacked the basket and drew fouls.

Tyree Crump, who has been playing so much looser than in his previous two years in Athens, scored 16 points prior to the intermission.  Crump didn’t just hit three’s either, though he did knock down two; he also found points off the dribble and on cuts without the ball.

Claxton was simply the best player on the court in the first half as he scored 7 points, grabbed 10 boards and swatted 3 shots.  Claxton’s versatility makes him such a weapon for Tom Crean.  He can defend every position (he blocked two of Dort’s shots before the half), and he can bring the ball up the court immediately upon rebounding it, which really helped to ignite the tempo of this UGA team’s offense in half number one. 

Georgia went on a huge 12-3 run that included a triple from Tyree Crump and an athletic finish by Rayshaun Hammonds that bolstered UGA’s first half lead to 43-29 with a little over 2 minutes remaining before the break; the Dawgs would take a 47-33 advantage into the half.

Everything that went well in the first half failed to carry over to half number two, though. ASU opened up the second half with a 13-7 run that was fueled in part by 2 UGA turnovers.  After 5 minutes of play, the Sun Devils had cut the Dawgs’ double-digit halftime advantage to 54-46.   Georgia’s defense had no answer for Arizona State guard Remy Martin, who led all scorers with 21 points. Martin got into the paint whenever he wanted, and when he wasn’t driving, he was dropping the ball off to Romello White, who chipped in 16 points and seemed to have his way with the Georgia bigs inside.  ASU followed up its 32% first half performance from the floor with a much-improved 50% effort after the break.

One stat that will not show up in the box score that was devastating for Georgia was Arizona State’s ability to answer UGA three-pointers: ASU followed up three consecutive Georgia triples with a triple themselves in the second half, and that certainly aided their comeback effort and eventual win.

Foul trouble was a killer for UGA on Saturday night. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in the first 3 minutes of the game, which tested UGA’s frontcourt depth, or lack thereof, early. Anytime Mike Edwards is forced into playing additional minutes, one can assume that things are not going as planned for the Dawgs.  Ogbeide picked up his 4th foul less than 4 minutes into the second half, and Rayshaun Hammonds fouled out with over 4 minutes remaining in the game.

Crump, Hammonds and Claxton, who combined for 38 first-half points, scored a total of 9 points between them in the game’s final 20 minutes. Credit ASU coach Bobby Hurley for making the defensive adjustments necessary to take that trio completely out of rhythm.

Considering how large of a halftime lead Georgia held over this Sun Devil team at home, this loss feels tough. Maybe that’s because it came so close on the heels of the football team’s collapse against Bama in Atlanta two weeks ago. Who knows? 

However, the Dawgs’ effort in this game completely surpassed my expectations, and if you had told me this morning that Georgia would have the ball with a chance to tie or win at the end of the game I would have taken it in a heartbeat. This team IS getting better. If you don’t believe me, just rewatch the game against Georgia State last month in the Cayman Islands. The Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC before the season started, and after tonight, I would be shocked if Tom Crean’s team didn’t end up several spots higher than that initial forecast.

Hot-handed Georgia beats Texas Southern 92-75

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After coasting for the previous 20 minutes, the Georgia Bulldogs (5-3) saw their 25-point second half lead whittle down to a 78-66 advantage with a little over 5 minutes remaining following a 13-0 run by the Texas Southern Tigers (3-6). A game that seemed a forgone conclusion suddenly had become far more competitive than Tom Crean most likely preferred. Thankfully, Tyree Crump, who had his best shooting night as a Bulldog, buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to stop the bleeding and solidify the home win for the Dawgs. 

This win was a much-needed jolt of momentum for UGA as they head into a twelve day layoff due to final exams. Texas Southern was an NCAA tournament team a year ago after winning the SWAC, and they were projected to finish 2nd in the league this year.  The Tigers are now 3-6 on the season, but their schedule thus far has been brutal as Georgia marked the sixth Power 5 team that Texas Southern has played on the road, with wins at both Baylor and Oregon. Put simply, the Dawgs beat a team tonight that is better than its record indicates.

Georgia’s offense was clicking on Monday evening in Athens. UGA entered this contest connecting on just under 6 three’s a game, yet by the intermission the Dawgs had already hit that mark. The hot shooting from the perimeter, which must have come as a bit of a surprise to the Tigers considering UGA came into this game making less than 32% of its attempts from beyond the arc, took Texas Southern out of its defensive game plan.  The Tigers started the game in a zone in the hopes of forcing Georgia to beat them from outside, but the Dawgs’ efficiency from the perimeter forced the Tigers to extend its pressure, which resulted in a slew of easy scores for Georgia close to the bucket as UGA notched 24 of its 52 first-half points in the paint.

UGA’s proficient shooting extended into the second half as well as the Dawgs ended up with 11 three-pointers on the night, tying their season-high from the opener against Savannah State. Tyree Crump, who led all scorers with a career-high 25 points, was responsible for 5 of those triples. Crump did not start this game, but he nearly outscored a Texas Southern bench that was responsible for 26 points on the night. Georgia’s starting frontcourt is fairly solid; it’s the backcourt that remains a major question mark at this point in the season. In order for Georgia to live its best life, Crump needs to become a double-digit scorer for this team (like, starting now).

I realize that we haven’t scratched the surface of conference play, but UGA’s trio of starting lefty bigs seem legit.  Rayshaun Hammonds, Nicolas Claxton and Derek Ogbeide attacked the glass relentlessly this evening as they collected 27 boards between them; they were just a few rebounds shy of all ending the night with double-doubles (Ogbeide was the only one to secure that feat).  Georgia had 15 offensive rebounds which led to 21 second chance points.

Derek Ogbeide, who is averaging in double-figures for the first time in his career, looks a lot more comfortable in Crean’s offense. Personally, I much prefer him receiving the ball in the paint versus at the top of the key (where Fox generally had him as a set piece in his offense), and I’m guessing that he feels the same way. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia limited the Tigers to just 35% from the floor, which is below their season average.  Texas Southern’s leading scorer, Jalyn Patterson (15 ppg), was held to just 3 points on a forgetful 1 for 14 shooting performance from the floor. 

The Dawgs return to action on December 15th when they host the Arizona State Sun Devils, who are currently 7-0. Though, that could certainly change as they have a date with #6 Nevada later on this week.