Dawgs end losing streak (and possibly Florida’s NCAA chances)

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Georgia closes one out

Jalen Hudson hit a jumper to cut Georgia’s (11-18, 2-14) advantage to 51-50 with 4:13 left in the game. On the road in a must-win game for the home team, this was the moment where UGA should have folded. Instead, the Dawgs went 4 for 4 from the floor during the final 4 minutes, which enabled Tom Crean’s team to preserve a 61-55 victory that snapped a 13-game conference losing streak.

This one had to feel good for just about everyone involved.

Jordan Harris, who was less involved offensively as he had been recently, converted maybe his biggest field goal of his career on a drive that sent the Dawgs up 59-55 with only 27 seconds remaining.

Nic Claxton also contributed two buckets during the aforementioned stretch. Claxton finished with a career-high 25 points as he shouldered the majority of the offense in this one with teammate Rayshaun Hammonds playing limited minutes due to a foot injury. Claxton knocked down both his three-point attempts, and he abused the Florida big men off the dribble for much of the night. This effort by the Georgia sophomore was certainly the first time this season he has played the part of “go-to” man for this team for the entire game, and it’s certainly a good look for Claxton.

UGA’s man defense

Tom Crean and his staff deserve a huge “attaboy” for the scout job and defensive strategy that they put together for this one. Coach Crean had his team matchup in a man defense for most of this contest, and Florida had no answer, especially as the the UGA defenders switched on nearly everything in an attempt to better contest perimeter shots. After the initial 6 minutes of play, the Gators had scored only 6 points as they struggled to adjust to the relentless Georgia pressure.

Georgia’s defensive numbers in this game were just sublime. UGA held the Gators to their second-lowest offensive output in SEC play, with lowest being the 54 points Florida mustered against Kentucky; the Gators shot under 40% from the floor, and they made only 5 of their 21 three-point attempts. KeVaughn Allen, who’s been netting nearly 15 points a night in league games, managed just 5 points on a forgettable 1 for 10 shooting performance. Georgia did such a good job of blanketing Allen that at times it was easy to forget that the senior was even participating in this contest.

The only flaw in the Georgia defensive effort was the Dawgs’ inability to secure defensive rebounds, which has been a struggle for this team all season. UGA entered this game 11th in the league in defensive rebound percentage (67%), which is the number of defensive boards a team gets plus the number of offensive rebounds yielded divided by its total rebounds. This statistic basically illuminates how well a team is at preventing opponents from getting second-chance opportunities because the higher the defensive rebound percentage, the less offensive rebounds a team is allowing. On Saturday, Georgia yielded 12 offensive rebounds to the Gators, and fortunately for Tom Crean’s team those only resulted in 6 second-chance points for Florida.

Dawgs flip the script

The basic narrative for a UGA basketball game this season, especially in league play, has been something like this:

  • Georgia takes lead early
  • Dawgs get careless with the ball and fall apart towards the end of the first half (most likely trail by double-digits)
  • UGA plays itself back into the game to start second half
  • Georgia either fades down the stretch and inevitably loses (possibly in heartbreaking fashion)

This one started out according to script, with UGA opening up an 18-8 advantage with 11:18 left in the half after Claxton buried a triple. The Dawgs were careless with the basketball as they turned it over 11 times in the first half, and those mishaps led to 15 Gator points. However, UGA’s defense kept them in it and that was a huge reason why Georgia trailed by just a point at the intermission. As frustrating as it must have been for Tom Crean to see his team shoot 55% from the floor prior to the break and still be down, he had to take some satisfaction in that the giveaways did not turn into a huge Florida lead.

The Gators came out of the gates firing on all cylinders to start the second half as Mike White’s team scored 6 quick points to build up a 34-27 lead. But Georgia hung around and methodically continued to chip away at the Florida advantage until Tye Fagan buried a triple that helped his team retake the lead 41-39 with over 11 minutes of gametime remaining. Even more importantly, Georgia only turned the ball over 4 times following the intermission, and Florida managed just 1 point off those hiccups.

The end of the game, which I covered at the top of this post, was obviously different than the last 4 game’s story lines because Georgia learned how to close out and finish.

Final thoughts

This team has been on the cusp of snapping this losing streak for two weeks now, and the fact that the Dawgs, who have suffered a string of crushingly close losses, continued to play with a lot of fight and intensity is a testament to both the players and Coach Crean.

Georgia ending its losing streak without its second-leading scorer is just another aspect of this contest that makes last night’s win even more amazing. Add in the salt that Florida fans have to be feeling considering that A) this transpired on their court and B) this loss could eliminate the Gators from an at-large bid, and UGA fans should be all smiles on Sunday.

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