The Georgia Bulldogs (13-13, 3-10) snapped a four-game losing streak on Wednesday night against the #13 Auburn Tigers in a game that Las Vegas had made UGA a 4.5-point underdog. It should definitely be noted that Bruce Pearl’s team was playing its second consecutive game without NBA prospect Isaac Okoro, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.1 ppg. Nonetheless, this young Bulldog team found a way to win despite holding a double-digit lead for a brief 35 seconds early in the second half.
A couple thoughts on the game:
Here we go again…
The big “here we go again moment” came around the 6-minute mark of the second half after Anthony Edwards had knocked down a free throw to make it 52-43, Georgia. Over the next four possessions, Sahvir Wheeler, Mike Peake, Jordan Harris and Edwards all took three-point attempts that failed to convert. For the record, Harris shoots 28% from the perimeter and Peake shoots just 12%, so why those two were launching from beyond the arc during the game’s final stretch is beyond me.
Thankfully, the Ant Man converted on a floater that made it 54-47 with 4 minutes left, but Samir Doughty buried a triple on the ensuing possession and Auburn found themselves trailing by only 4 points. For anyone who has watched even a sliver of this UGA basketball season, this felt like the time when the wheels were supposed to start coming off for Georgia. Edwards sunk a huge three-pointer two possessions later, though, that turned out to be a dagger as it put the Dawgs up by 8 with 2:15 remaining. The cacophony of sounds circulating inside Stegeman following this bucket was a blend of cheers as well as collective sighs of relief from the Bulldog nation.
40-minute defensive effort from Georgia
Tom Crean finally convinced his team to play defense for an entire game, and it resulted in Auburn scoring its second-lowest output (55) of the season. This Tiger team entered this contest with the 3rd highest-scoring offense in SEC play at over 77 a night, further highlighting how impressive UGA was on that side of the ball this evening.
When Georgia struggled to stay in front of J’Von McCormick, who ended up with 22 points, Crean switched his team into a matchup zone in order to give his perimeter players more help up top in dealing with the senior guard. The Dawgs frustrated Bruce Pearl’s team into a 31% effort from the field and just 15% from beyond the arc; both of these results were well below the Tigers’ season shooting averages in league games. Georgia’s defense was so stifling that Pearl sweated completely through his suit, making him the second coach in less than a week that UGA has caused to perspire profusely.
Even though Auburn kept trying to pound the ball inside to Austin Wiley so as to take advantage of Georgia’s undersized frontcourt, the Dawgs were only outscored in the paint by a tally of 28-26; the last time these two teams met the Tigers brutalized UGA on the interior for 44 points. Protecting the rim has been a real challenge for this Bulldog squad this season, so it was refreshing to see them finally put together a complete effort in that facet of the game on Wednesday.
Georgia did yield 16 offensive boards to the Tigers and those did lead to 18 second chance points, but considering this Auburn team is the top offensive rebounding squad in SEC games (14.3), this is forgivable.
Crean’s frosh step up
While Edwards did knock down two important shots during the final stretch of this game, he also committed a game-high 7 turnovers, and those could have been more costly for Georgia had some of his fellow freshman not stepped up.
Sahvir Wheeler finished with 13 points and 4 assists as he looked in complete control of the UGA offense for much of the game. There was a moment in the first half when a Georgia big brought an on-ball screen to Wheeler on the perimeter. After Wheeler took his defender into the screen off the dribble, he found himself isolated with Auburn’s center (Wiley) defending him. Sahvir attacked the Tiger big man and had him backpedaling so quickly that Wheeler pulled up for a wide open jumper just inside the free throw line, which he made. It was such a mature decision by the freshman to take the wide open shot versus forcing something contested around the rim.
The other newcomer that was seemingly everywhere on the court on Wednesday night was Toumani Camara, who scored 12 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 steals (he also took at least two charges).
Georgia heads to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt with a shot at putting together its first SEC win streak of the year.
NIT (outer fringes of the bubble)