The Dawgs (8-4, 1-4) got their first conference win of the season on Saturday at The Pavillion in Oxford, Mississippi, where the Bulldogs hung on for a 78-74 win. Here are the three reasons why UGA managed to pull off the road upset. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the backcourt.
- Sahvir Wheeler
The sophomore point guard played maybe his most complete game of the season against Ole Miss as he scored 18 points to go along with 9 assists. Wheeler played steady for pretty much the entire game, but I thought he had two particular stretches that were key for his team. The first came right out of the half when Georgia’s point guard scored a layup and dished out 2 assists which bolstered UGA’s advantage to 36-30. Wheeler was distributing the ball well and getting his teammates involved. His shining moment, however, came during the final stretch of play with his team leading by just 1 with 1:02 left after a pair of free throws from Devontae Shuler. Wheeler put the offense on his shoulders and got to the free throw line on consecutive possessions, where he knocked down 4 straight free throws and essentially helped his team close out the Rebels.
2. Tye Fagan
Georgia’s offense was kind of a mess in the first half of this contest. Ole Miss threw several different zones at the Dawgs that involved trapping outside the three-point line, and UGA looked discombobulated. Georgia shot under 41% from the floor and committed 8 turnovers in the initial 20 minutes of this game.
The second half was a completely different story, however, and Fagan was a big part of UGA’s offensive transformation. Fagan masterfully found the soft spots in the Ole Miss zone and was the benefactor of a lot of easy shots at the rim. After scoring just 2 points prior to the break, Fagan came out and netted 17 points over the final 20 minutes on a perfect 8 of 8 performance from the floor. The Dawgs shot a blistering 75% from the floor in the second half, thanks in part to Fagan’s efforts on offense.
3. K.D. Johnson
To be honest, Georgia doesn’t win this game if the NCAA hadn’t cleared Johnson to play this week. The freshman came off the bench to give his team 14 points, including a 4 of 5 shooting effort from beyond the arc. Johnson knocked down triples on consecutive possessions late in the game to put UGA up 71-59 with 4:33 remaining. K.D.’s ability to convert from the perimeter (in clutch situations, nonetheless) makes this Georgia team more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball. The freshman, paired with Wheeler and Toumani Camara, gives Tom Crean a solid foundation to start with next year.
While the sole focus of this post has been on the UGA backcourt, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the Georgia defense for just a bit. Tom Crean deployed his team in a 2-3 zone for much of this contest, which was a worthy strategy considering the Rebels entered this game 13th in the SEC in scoring (65) and last in field goal percentage (38.4%). While the Dawgs probably feel decent about not allowing an opponent to score over 90 points for the 4th straight game, Georgia did permit Mississippi to exceed their SEC averages in both scoring (74) and field goal percentage (50.8%). UGA still has issues on the defensive side of the ball; Ole Miss just didn’t have the firepower to completely expose them. Kentucky comes into Athens on Wednesday, and UGA’s defense will definitely be put to the test against Calipari’s bigger athletes.