Dawg put together complete game, advance to play Florida

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In a truly bizarre day of basketball in which the NCAA announced it would be playing its tournament without fans, the Georgia Bulldogs (16-16) opened up the SEC tournament against the Ole Miss Rebels in the only day of action for this competition in which spectators would be allowed to be present.

After a depressing week of UGA hoops which resulted in losses to both Florida and LSU (in quite embarassing fashion), the Dawgs stepped on the court in Nashville and played their most complete game in a while against a Rebel Black Bear team that beat them earlier this season in Athens.

From the opening tip, Georgia appeared more energized, and the Dawgs were certainly the aggressors as they won the majority of 50-50 balls in this one. From the start, UGA’s offense was a thing of constant motion. The Rebels tried to slow the Dawgs down by playing some combinations of 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, yet Georgia just continued to methodically move the ball to the soft spots in the defense. Tom Crean’s team finished the game with 19 assists, which is incredible considering how much this team as struggled to remain productive against zone defenses all season.

Senior Jordan Harris definitely wins the “Most Active” award, though. Harris moved without the ball the entire game and it resulted in his best performance of the year: 21 points and 7 rebounds. He scored off of cuts from the top of the key and the baseline, and Harris kept positioning himself as a perfect target on the perimeter, where he canned 3 of 4 triples.

The other offensive stud of the night was Rayshaun Hammonds, who bullied the Rebels with 22 points and 11 boards. Coach Kermit Davis had no answer for Hammonds, who scored from just about everywhere on the court as well: on the block, short corner, around the free throw line and from beyond the arc.

As a team, the Dawgs made over 54% of their shots from the floor, which was significantly higher than their season average of 43%. But again, UGA’s unselfishness with the ball and the players’ ability to create offense without the ball in their hands led to 42 points in the paint to Ole Miss’s 38.

All of the positives on offense this evening are even more significant considering that UGA’s leading scorer, Anthony Edwards, had an off night as he mustered only 6 points on a 2 for 13 effort from the floor.

The other big story of the night was the Georgia defense, which has definitely been a limiting factor for this team all season. Tonight’s UGA squad looked nothing like the bunch that traveled to Baton Rouge last weekend. Players were rotating and helping on penetration. Shots were being contested from all angles. Breein Tyree ended up with 18 points, but that’s still more than 4 below his SEC average, and he did it at the expense of a 6 for 16 shooting effort. Georgia forced Ole Miss into 15 turnovers on the night to UGA’s 12, which is impressive considering the Rebels were the 4th best team in the conference this season in turnover margin (+.5).

The one scary part of this game came at the 5:59 mark when Khadim Sy converted a dunk to make it an 8-point game and every UGA fan started to think “here we go again” in the back of their head (since Georgia has had a knack for blowing double-digit leads this season). Sahvir Wheeler had other plans, though, as the freshman went into attack mode and scored 8 of this 15 points down the stretch to help the Dawgs hang on to the 81-63 victory and play into the second round.

Tomorrow, Georgia gets its third shot at Florida, a team that has beaten them twice this season with rather suffocating defense. However, it is difficult to beat a team three times in a year. Also, the last time UGA knocked off Ole Miss in its first game of the SEC Tournament and the remainder of the games were played without fans (like this one will be from here on out) was 2008, and well, you know what happened.

Georgia basketball’s Achilles’ heel

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The regular season came to a grinding halt yesterday in Baton Rouge, and Georgia Bulldog (15-16, 5-13) basketball fans most likely breathed a collective sigh. After being treated to a little mini-run of success a few weeks ago in which the Dawgs won 3 of 4 games, including a dramatic buzzer-beater against Vanderbilt in Nashville, UGA spent the past game and a half getting pulverized by LSU and Florida.

Yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of LSU was just a microcosm of an epidemic that has plagued this Georgia team all season: its defense (or lack thereof). The Dawgs ended the year with the second-worst scoring defense in SEC play as they allowed over 78 points a contest. In 13 of 18 conference games this year, Georgia allowed the opposing team score above their season SEC average in points. All season, this UGA team has been slow to react and provide help on penetration, and yesterday was no different as the Tigers scored 42 points in the paint and shot over 58% from the floor.

Probably the most concerning piece of the puzzle regarding the UGA defense is the lack of improvement that this team has shown. Over the past 3 games, the Dawgs are ranked 344th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The fact that this team is young is no excuse; they should have gotten better in this regard as the season progressed, yet they didn’t. In fact, one could go so far as to say that UGA regressed on the defensive side of the ball.

Tom Crean had his guys in a matchup zone for most of the game in Baton Rouge. However, it still appears that too many of Georgia’s players don’t understand the concepts of this particular defense. Sure, UGA’s perimeter guys switch off screens and movement on the wing. But once an opposing dribble-driver gets into the lane, there’s still little indication that any of Georgia’s 4 other defenders knows how to react. The Tigers had little issue shattering their season average of 80 ppg as they almost pushed the scoreboard to triple digits against a UGA team that provided little resistance. LSU hasn’t been a particularly strong three-point shooting team this year (32.5%), yet against Crean’s zones the Bayou Bengal Tigers canned over 52% of their attempts from beyond the arc.

With the losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide from last year’s team, coupled with the sudden departure of Amanze Ngumezi, some drop off had to be expected. Obviously, this year’s squad was not built to deal with a lot of size from opposing frontcourts. However, this is a highly-athletic team, especially Anthony Edwards, Jordan Harris and Toumani Camara. Despite the glaring size disadvantages, Georgia should have been able to contain teams better on the defensive side of the ball.

Georgia opens up the SEC Tournament next week on Wednesday in a rematch with Ole Miss, a team that beat the Dawgs 70-60 in January back in Athens. Depending on which UGA team shows up, this experience in Nashville could go one of two ways: it ends painlessly on Wednesday, or Georgia plays into the start of the weekend. If the Dawgs do manage to get by the Rebel Black Bears, I think they have a realistic shot of beating Florida in the next round. I mean, surely UGA can find a way to hold onto a double-digit lead against a team that has beaten them twice this year, right?

Best case scenario: the SEC does not permit fans to attend due to concerns regarding the coronavirus, and Georgia steals the championship similarly to the 2008 tornado team.

Florida stops Georgia’s momentum in its tracks

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The Georgia Bulldogs (15-15, 5-12) came into Wednesday’s game against Florida in the midst of their best stretch of basketball all season. Winners of 3 of the last 4 games, UGA had to feel confident that they had a chance to avenge an earlier loss to the Gators, a game in which Georgia let a 22-point lead evaporate.

Sadly, the rematch resembled the first game between these two teams in several key ways, and the Dawgs emerged as the loser once again. Here are a few thoughts on what went down on Senior Night in Athens:

The turning point in the game

Tye Fagan’s layup with a little under 8 minutes to go in the game gave Georgia a 46-45 advantage in what had been a tight contest. Key words: “had been”. In less than 3 minutes, the Dawgs managed to commit 3 turnovers that coincided with a pair of triples from Noah Locke and an uncontested dunk from Keyontae Johnson that sent the Gators up 55-46 with 5:08 left. Locke hit another triple 3 minutes later that gave Florida a 64-52 lead and UGA fans a reason to head for the exits.

It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to get properly frustrated and watch the lead slip away; instead, it vanished in an instant. Mike White’s team closed out the game on a 23-8 run as they completed the season sweep of this young UGA team.

UGA defense didn’t return from the locker room for the 2nd half

Florida entered this one as the best shooting team in SEC play. The Gators had been hitting almost 47% from the floor and nearly 38% from the perimeter. Through the first half against UGA, Florida had mustered just 41% on field goals and they had missed all 10 of their attempts from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs held the Gators, a team that was netting almost 74 a game, to just 28 points at the half.

Half number two was a different story, though. The UGA defense either became winded or just less interested in rotating and covering the perimeter. Florida took advantage and buried 7 of 13 three-point attempts to go along with a robust 54% shooting effort from the floor. The Dawgs have struggled all season to put together a defensive effort for a full game, and tonight was no different. Actually, this game was eerily similar to the loss in Gainesville in that Georgia kept Florida in check for the first 20 minutes (26 points) until letting the floodgates burst open after the intermission (55 points). I suppose Tom Crean’s team can take some solace in the fact that they only permitted the Gators net 40 on them in the final twenty minutes.

Georgia stars struggled

After taking just 2 shots in the first half, Anthony Edwards immediately asserted himself into the flow of the 2nd half as he drew 3 fouls attacking the basket in less than 3 minutes. He had 4 points as well during this stretch and the Dawgs had built up a 6-point cushion. However, aside from a monstrous dunk several minutes later, the Ant Man never really got any kind of offensive rhythm going in this one. He finished with 14 points, but that came at the expense of a 3 for 10 shooting effort from the floor and 3 turnovers.

Probably more frustrating for Tom Crean, though, was the disappearance of Rayshaun Hammonds in the second half. For whatever reason, Hammonds has struggled to stay engaged on offense for entire games this season even though he is an integral part of this team’s scheme on that side of the ball. The junior played a solid first half as he notched 10 points and snagged 7 boards. After the break, though, Hammonds scored only 2 more points and he ended up with 6 turnovers on the night. Two of those giveaways came during the aforementioned “turning point” when this UGA squad needed an upperclassmen to settle things down as Florida made its run.

Up next:

The Dawgs close out the regular season with a road trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.

Postseason projection:

None

Box score:

Is this UGA basketball team…dangerous?

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Just two weeks ago, Georgia (15-14, 5-11) was just 2-10 in conference and the Dawgs had lost 8 of their past 9 games. Things felt bleak, to say the least.

After holding serve at home today against the Arkansas Razorbacks, UGA finds itself in the midst of its best stretch of basketball this season as the Dawgs have now won 3 of their last 4 contests. Similarly to the South Carolina game earlier in the week, Georgia was up against a team fighting to stay on the NCAA bubble. It’s safe to say that Tom Crean’s team just smacked the Hogs out of Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out”, and they nearly eclipsed 100 points in doing so.

Two pivotal moments of the game

With 6:41 remaining in the first half, Georgia enjoyed a 38-20 lead as the Dawgs were making everything they threw at the rim. UGA’s first half shooting numbers were absurd: Georgia hit over 55% from the floor and made more than 45% of their attempts from beyond the arc.

However, Georgia had already blown 4 double-digit leads in SEC games this season already, so no one watching this one ever felt safe, and for good reason. The Hogs closed out the half on a 19-9 run, and Eric Musselman’s team went into the half feeling relieved that they only trailed by 8 points.

Mason Jones, who sleepwalked through the first half, woke up quickly coming out of the break as he scored 5 points to bring Arky within 3 with 19:12 left in the game.

Georgia responded with coast-to-coast layups from Sahvir Wheeler and dunks from Toumani Camara and Jordan Harris. Instead of sulking about the change in momentum, UGA took it back through a series of high-energy plays that saw them bolster the lead to 58-50 with 14:17 remaining.

Pivotal moment number two came with 2:45 left in the game and Georgia leading by a point. Tyree Crump, who has made almost nothing but three-pointers during his time in Athens, took his defender off the dribble from the top of the key and finished at the rim on a layup. On the ensuing UGA possession, Crump again got by his man and found a wide open Rayshaun Hammonds for the easy stickback. On Georgia’s next trip down the court, Crump buried a triple from 5 feet outside the new extended three-point line to make it 90-84 with only 1:35 left. That shot was essentially the dagger that sunk Arkansas, and Crump has now put his stamp on two of UGA’s recent victories.

No defense from either side

Georgia and Arkansas entered Saturday’s game averaging in the low 70’s in scoring in SEC games, yet both teams were able to shatter those expected outcomes. Little defense was played inside Stegeman, but fortunately for UGA its offense was just a bit more effective down the stretch.

Georgia’s defensive lapses continue to remain perplexing. On multiple possessions, Sahvir Wheeler let Mason Jones blow by him to the rim. Given his height disparity, one would think that Wheeler could at least have provided some resistance around the perimeter on the Arkansas star. There were also several trips late in the second half in which the Hogs got uncontested baskets by simply outrunning the UGA defenders down the court.

Arkansas’s defense obviously wasn’t any better as they let Georgia pulverize them inside for 50 points (UGA allowed just 30 inside to Arky). Maybe both teams made a gentleman’s agreement prior to tipoff to take it easy on that end of the court?

I wonder if this team has the capability or willpower to play two games of defense in a row?

Anthony Edwards has hit his stride

The Ant Man is netting 31 a night in his past two games, and he’s making over 50% of his shots from the floor. Edwards is enjoying his best moments of SEC basketball lately, and it’s clear that he is in rhythm.

When the season started, it was evident that the Ant Man had all the physical attributes and skills that NBA teams covet. However, those gifts were not always translating to success on the court, especially when league play got going.

That’s not the case anymore. Edwards looks incredibly comfortable with the ball, and he’s creating great looks for himself off the dribble. All of his recent dominance is even more impressive considering that both South Carolina and Arkansas basically had a man playing flat out deny on him for nearly the entire game.

One more shout out…

Shout out to Ray Hammonds, Jordan Harris, Wheeler and Camara. As mentioned above, Arkansas tried to take Edwards away (though it didn’t totally work as the freshman scored 26 points) by face-guarding him in their man set so as to force the other Georgia players to beat them. That strategy didn’t work out so well for the Hogs as Hammonds dropped 22 points and the other three guys all finished in double-digits.

Up next:

Florida at home on Wednesday

Postseason projection:

NIT

Box score: