First, the defense
Tom Crean and his staff decided to mix things up a bit on the defensive end against LSU on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, starting after the first make of the game when the Bulldogs (9-9, 1-5) jumped into a little token full court pressure. Even though Georgia only showed this look several times, it was refreshing seeing the Dawgs as the aggressors, especially considering how much press Crean’s team has seen this season. The intent was to slow down this LSU offense by shortening the Tigers possessions in the halfcourt, and it was effective through the first 5 minutes as UGA managed to build up a 13-8 lead.
UGA also showed a new matchup zone that incorporated some quick traps on the wings and in the corners, and this helped to stabilize things after a 14-0 Tiger run that ran the LSU advantage up to 22-13 at the 13-minute mark in the first half.
The zone sets befuddled the Tigers momentarily, but LSU quickly learned that Georgia had no intent of fulfilling its obligations in regards to backside rotations, and Will Wade’s team started getting to the rim with ease. The Dawgs looked like a team that just learned these zones this week. I mean, the Tigers had 48 points at the half (to UGA’s 36) and shot 50% from the floor, so Georgia’s junk zone looks certainly weren’t giving them too many issues offensively. LSU had players on two different occasions drive from beyond the arc straight to the rim for a wide-open dunk without facing any resistance from a single UGA defender.
Considering the talent and athleticism disparity that favored LSU, I totally understand why Crean didn’t feel comfortable playing the Tigers man-to-man, hence the new defensive sets. The problem, though, is that it just didn’t work as LSU finished with 92 points and made 50% of its field goal attempts. The Tigers had both its starting guards score more than 20 points in Tremont Waters (26) and Skylar Mays (20).
Final indication that UGA’s defense failed it tonight: Georgia shot 54% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc and still lost by double-digits.
And…now the offense
Georgia appeared dead to rights when they trailed the Tigers by 16 with 11:12 left in the second half. However, UGA wouldn’t quit, and a slew of buckets by Derek Ogbeide, who scored 14 off the bench, coupled with a generally lethargic effort from Will Wade’s team for nearly 8 minutes saw the Dawgs trailing 78-71 at the game’s final media timeout.
Unfortunately, LSU responded with consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays that put them up 84-73 with 2:57 remaining, effectively icing the game.
However, the reason that Georgia found itself even sniffing striking distance was because the Dawgs played some of their best offense of the season during the aforementioned 8-minute stretch. UGA scored a slew of buckets on backdoor cuts that would have made former Princeton coach Pete Carril proud. Georgia’s wings slashed to the basket when the ball moved inside the three-point line, which led to 5 team assists during this span of the contest. This little snippet of the game was probably the best UGA has looked on offense since conference play began, and a lot of that can be attributed to how well the Bulldogs were moving without the ball.
Rayshaun Hammonds, who was held in check in the first half, scored 15 of his 18 following the intermission. The sophomore asserted himself on offense as he created opportunities for others off the dribble; he also did an excellent job of staying active and making himself available around the rim when he didn’t possess the ball. Hammonds was an integral part in Georgia’s ability to keep this game within reach deep into the second half.
With the good, though, must come the bad, and once again, Georgia had issues with ball security. Credit LSU for its defensive intensity. The Tiger guards were constantly harassing the UGA ball-handlers (11 steals), and the LSU bigs excelled at protecting the glass (5 team blocks). The turnover bug bit Tom Crean’s team once again, though, to the tune of 17 giveaways, and those mishaps proved costly as they led to 17 Tiger points. Georgia entered tonight’s game last in the SEC in turnover margin at -5.2, and it’s likely the Dawgs will remain in that slot after Wednesday’s showing.