I realize that teams and their fan bases take little pride in moral victories in the long run. However, for THIS Georgia Bulldog (10-15, 1-11) team in THIS season, the Dawgs and their supporters should take some solace from last night’s effort against the #19 LSU Tigers.
UGA went toe-to-toe with an LSU team that had just knocked off #5 Kentucky at Rupp earlier in the week. With 29 seconds remaining in this contest, Georgia had an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Nic Claxton elected to drive it at the rim, and his shot sailed over the basket, but the point is that the Dawgs were still in it with less than a minute remaining against a squad that is now tied with Tennessee for 1st place in the conference.
Tom Crean’s team’s most glaring weaknesses this year have been turnovers and inconsistent defense, yet on Saturday both of those shortcomings were relatively unnoticeable. The Dawgs committed only 11 turnovers, and even though those led to 17 Tiger points, for a Georgia team that’s been giving it away 15 times a night in conference play, this felt like a “win”.
Sure, LSU put up 83 points in its win over UGA, but guess what? They’ve been doing that to just about everybody. The Tigers are netting over 85 points a game in league play, so if you’re a “glass is half full” kind of person you could see this as a minor victory for the Georgia defense as the Dawgs held the Tigers under their SEC average in points.
LSU coach Will Wade seemingly has a never-ending supply of 6’10”-ish bigs he can run into the game, which is probably why his team leads the SEC in offensive boards per contest at over 14 a clip. The Tigers’ big men attacked the glass ferociously Saturday night, and it yielded 19 second-chance points for LSU, but Georgia had 18 points of that variety themselves.
This Tiger roster is far more talented than the current one that Tom Crean is working with. LSU has three guards in Tremont Waters, Skylar Mars and Ja’Vonte Smart that can all instantly create offense off the dribble; UGA doesn’t have anyone this year who can do that (aside from Jordan Harris, at times). Crean mixed in some 2-3 zone with his base man defense in an effort to slow down Waters, but the SEC’s best point guard got his 20 points. Smart, who is an absolute luxury for Wade to bring off the bench, torched the Dawgs for 19 points as he attacked the rim relentlessly. Luckily for Georgia, Mars, who nets over 13 ppg, was limited to just 6 on Saturday.
Despite the disparity in talent level between these two teams, Georgia hung with this Tiger team for nearly 40 minutes. UGA shot over 47% from the floor and had four players finish in double-figures in a game that featured 7 lead changes.
The Dawgs didn’t look like a team that was in the midst of a 9-game conference losing streak on Saturday. They didn’t back down in a game against a ranked opponent, when that certainly was an option. In the end, UGA came up 4 points short to the Tigers, but Georgia basketball fans have to take some satisfaction in the effort this Bulldog team showed in what has otherwise been a forgettable season.
Jordan Harris’s improvement
Harris’s 12 points on Saturday marked the 6th time in the last 7 games that the junior has finished in double-figures in the scoring department. Harris is also hauling in over 6 rebounds a contest during that same stretch. Jordan, who has to be the best athlete on the team, has emerged as a player that can create offense off the dribble from outside the paint, something this team was sorely lacking in the previous two-thirds of the season. If he continues to finish out this season strong, Harris has a realistic opportunity to be a regular double-digit contributor on next season’s team.
Rayshaun Hammonds foul tracker
With his 4 personal fouls on Saturday against LSU, Hammonds has now officially tied last season’s total of 81 PFs. The Dawgs have at least 7 games remaining (including the SEC tournament), so Hammonds has an extremely legitimate shot at committing over 100 PFs on the season, considering that he is averaging 3.7 a night in SEC play. The sophomore’s inability to stay on the court is perplexing because 1) he’s not an overly physical player and 2) he MUST realize his importance to this team. Hammonds netted 13 points against the Tigers yesterday, but he only logged 25 minutes of game time.