South Carolina too physical for Georgia (again)

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Become a Georgia basketball fan at your own risk. That’s probably the single-best piece of advice that I could impart upon anyone considering entering the world of fandom for this program.

Because being a fan of the basketball Dawgs means that you have to endure rollercoaster-like conditions. How else does one explain how Georgia, who recently cruised past SEC power LSU, just dropped their 10th straight game to Frank Martin’s team?

Let’s be perfectly clear: this year’s South Carolina team is BAD. They coasted into Athens on nothing but the fumes of a 6-game losing streak in which they were yielding 82 points a contest, yet they held this UGA team to just 70 on Saturday, which is below Georgia’s season average (76.7). This South Carolina squad is not the defensive juggernaut they made themselves out to be this afternoon. They came into this one 12th in scoring defense and 11th in field goal percentage defense, and still their matchup zone managed to give Georgia fits. The Gamecocks have Jedi mind control over the Dawgs, plain and simple. That’s the only explanation that I can muster as to why a team with 4 SEC wins (half of them coming against Georgia) has now beaten Tom Crean’s bunch by 20+ points in both meetings this season.

Georgia’s defense, which had been improving as of late, was a no-show today. UGA hadn’t given up over 90 points since the 115-point effort by Alabama; not surprisingly, the Dawgs won 2 of 3 since that fiasco. After today, though, Georgia has now given up 90+ points 6 times in league play, and they’ve been on the losing end of all of those contests. South Carolina’s 91 points today were a season-best for this team. The Dawgs were slow to close out on the perimeter, something has plagued this UGA team, and the Cocks made them pay as they connected on 10 triples. SC hit almost 44% from beyond the arc, which is 13 percentage points higher than their SEC average. If anyone can help a team reach its offensive potential its Georgia.

Frank Martin’s guards completely overpowered Georgia as 4 players from the Carolina backcourt finished the game in double-figures. Sophomore guard Jermaine Couisinard led all scorers with 23 points as he bested his previous SEC-high this year of 18 points, which also came against Georgia. Trae Hannibal notched 15 points to tie his season-high in conference play; this was just his 4th time this year in which he eclipsed 10 points. Watching the game, the SC guards appeared so much more physical than the Dawgs, and they really seemed to impose their will on the UGA defense. It’s quite mind boggling as to how a team that has been as pedestrian as South Carolina has this year can make the talent gap between the Cocks and Dawgs appear insurmountable for Tom Crean’s team.

Georgia’s offense was as disappointing as its defense. The Dawgs shot just 36% from the floor and gave the ball away 19 times. Sahvir Wheeler, who was coming off the first triple-double in school history, followed up his best game of the season with arguably his worst. The sophomore couldn’t facilitate offense in the half court as he ended up with only 7 points on a 2 of 13 shooting performance (including 0 for 4 from beyond the arc). Probably the most glaring stat of the afternoon for Wheeler though were his 7 turnovers as he couldn’t create space between himself and the SC backcourt.

Despite all of Georgia’s faults, the Dawgs were within striking distance in this game with a little over 14 minutes remaining. UGA overcame a 41-29 halftime deficit to trim the Carolina lead to 48-44 after an old-fashioned three-point play by Andrew Garcia. However, the next stretch of play that transpired was just brutal for Georgia, and ultimately sealed the fate of this game. Over next 6 minutes, UGA went just 1 of 7 from the floor and committed 4 turnovers, and that ineffectiveness allowed the Gamecocks to build up a 66-48 advantage. Game. Set. Match.

Georgia’s consolation prize for this drubbing is that they get a week to lick their wounds and figure out how on earth they are going to slow down Alabama next Saturday. Holding the Tide under 100 points would certainly be a good start if the Dawgs want to keep their 6-seed in tact for the NIT.