UGA defense fails to show up for Arkansas game

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The Georgia Bulldogs (7-3, 0-3) remained winless in conference play after getting drubbed 99-69 by Arkansas in Fayetteville. The sky is not falling yet for this UGA basketball program as next week should be an easier slate (Auburn, Ole Miss), but what transpired today against the Hogs should give Georgia fans some pause for concern.

There’s an old saying in sports that “defense travels”; today, Georgia proved that’s not always true as the Dawgs’ defense clearly got lost somewhere en route to Bud Walton Arena. UGA entered this contest giving up an SEC-worst 88.5 points per game, and the Dawgs should safely hold that bottom spot in the defensive scoring category after yielding 99 to the Razorbacks on Saturday.

Georgia has particularly struggled at defending the perimeter this season. In its two SEC games, UGA’s opponents have made nearly 39% of their triple attempts. This afternoon, the Dawgs were a step late on closeouts, and Arkansas made them pay by knocking down 12 of 21 (57%) from beyond the arc, which is 3 more triples than the Hogs have been averaging a game this year.

While Arkansas was led by Moses Moody’s 25 points, the Dawgs allowed a total of five Hogs to finish in double-figures (and one other to also score 20). Believe it or not, this game was relatively close at the half with Georgia trailing by just 6 before a disinterested group of UGA players came out after the break and permitted Arky to put up 56 second-half points.

Georgia’s lack of a perimeter game is still a problem. In Tom Crean’s first three years at UGA, his team’s have shot 32%, 30% and 30.9% (this year’s bunch). When a coach states at his initial press conference that his team is going to shoot the three more, one would assume that would mean that his rosters would regularly have 3 to 4 legitimate outside threats. However, that’s never been the case for Crean, and this year’s team is no different. Georgia basically has two three-point threats: Justin Kier (42%) and P.J. Horne (35%). This is not enough firepower for a team that’s shooting over 21 triples a contest.

On Saturday, the Dawgs made just 5 of 19 (26%) on three-pointers. However, even if Georgia hits 3 more from beyond the arc, they still lose by 21, so it’s probably a non-factor in a game in which UGA played zero defense.

Toumani Camara and Sahvir Wheeler cannot miss significant chunks of time in games due to foul trouble. Today, Camara was the culprit, and his absence from the lineup definitely hurt the Dawgs on both ends of the court. The sophomore picked up his second foul of the game with over 15 minutes left in the first half, which caused him to have to spend nearly 10 minutes on the bench. He would eventually foul out of the game with 10 minutes remaining. Camara scored 15 points in 16 minutes, which is highly effective, but his inability to stay on the court served to keep him in check.

Wheeler didn’t have any foul issues, but he failed to show up in the second half. Prior to the break, the sophomore looked phenomenal as he scored 10 points on an array of dribble-drives from the perimeter. For 20 minutes, Wheeler looked the part of a premier SEC point guard; he’s got to find a way to put together two halves like that, especially when his team’s leading scorer is not participating.

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:

Looking back at Georgia’s 70-60 loss at Arkansas

On Tuesday night, the Georgia Bulldogs (10-10, 1-6) returned to both conference play as well as the offensive woes that have plagued them for much of the SEC slate. That team that shot over 70% from beyond the arc and nearly 67% from the floor last Saturday against Texas? Vanished. The UGA team in Bud Walton arena much more resembled the one that entered this contest near the bottom of the league in offensive output at just 65 ppg in SEC games.

How does this type of metamorphosis occur? My best postulation is that the 98-point outburst was a combination of an insanely hot Georgia team and a somewhat disinterested bunch of Longhorns.

Let me be clear: winning on the road in conference play is difficult. However, the task of earning a victory away from home becomes even more arduous when a team cannot protect the basketball and its star players fail to show themselves in the game’s critical moments, both of which occurred on Tuesday.

UGA got to out to an amazing start in this game as they jumped on the Razorbacks early and built up an 11-2 lead in the first 5 minutes. The Dawgs played with a lot of intensity and were extremely active around the ball and attacking the offensive glass, where Georgia notched 7 of its initial 11 points on second-chance opportunities.

However, eventually the Hogs started putting the ball in the basket themselves, and that enabled Mike Anderson’s team to set up its full court pressure. This past weekend I excused a portion of Georgia’s 26 turnovers due to the style of play that Crean wants this team to play at offensively. On Tuesday, though, the turnovers were caused more by UGA’s inability to deal with the Arkansas pressure than Georgia trying to create scoring opportunities on the offensive end.

The Razorback guards dictated UGA’s offense on Tuesday, and that’s not an effective way for Georgia, or any team, to play basketball. The Dawgs had 10 turnovers at the half, which allowed Arkansas to take a 31-29 advantage into the break. UGA gave the ball away 16 times on the night, and those were costly as they resulted in 16 Razorback points. The trend of Georgia struggling against intense defensive pressure due to its lack of a true point guard continued on Tuesday evening, and expect this course to persist until someone on Tom Crean’s team steps up and starts putting defenders on their heels (note: I don’t expect this to happen this season).

Alright, alright. Enough about the turnovers.

Let’s talk about Georgia’s lack of a true go-to guy. Who on this team can Crean count on to facilitate offense and score when the game is on the line? The answer, quite simply, is no one. For a 6’9″ guy, Hammonds continues to struggle with physicality around the basket, and he seems to prefer playing more of a stretch four. Nic Claxton can throw down some ferocious dunks, off of both misses and cuts; but he doesn’t yet have the ability to square up and take his defender off the dribble or on the block when he receives the ball with his back to the basket.

I mean, this game was tied 52-52 with a little over 6 minutes left. It was most certainly winnable. But while Mike Anderson’s players started to elevate their game down the final stretch, here is what UGA’s three leading scorers produced:

  • Rayshaun Hammonds: 0 points, 0-3 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 fouls
  • Nic Claxton: 2 points, 1-2 FG, 1 rebound, 1 foul, 1 turnover
  • Tyree Crump: 3 points, 1-3 FG, 1 rebound, 1 foul

This is money time, game on the line, and Georgia’s best offensive players mustered a combined 5 points during the final 6:23? That’s just not going to cut it on the road, and it’s a fairly big indicator of why UGA took an L in Fayetteville on Tuesday.

Bright spots:

  • Turtle Jackson had another solid game as he chipped in double-figure points (11) again.
  • Derek Ogbeide continues to provide offense off the bench as he notched 14 points against the Hogs.

Box Score

Quick take on Georgia’s home loss to Arkansas

Prior to tonight, the Arkansas Razorbacks had yet to win a true road game, and they were 0-9 in games in which they trailed at the half.  Both those boxes quickly became checked, however, when Arkansas’s Trey Thompson recovered on defense and blocked Yante Maten from behind on a play that looked as though it would result in UGA (12-7, 3-5) taking the lead.  Instead, the ball kicked off Maten as he headed out of bounds with 2.2 seconds left; Daryl Macon sunk a pair of free throws and the Hogs escaped with the 80-77 victory after Maten’s last-second three-pointer failed to connect.

The loss at Auburn last weekend was difficult to absorb because of how quickly and mercilessly the Tigers dismantled Georgia after the break.  Tonight’s loss was a back-and-forth game that UGA, unfortunately, could not close out.

Box score

GeorgiaArkansas

Missed opportunities for Georgia

Besides the block at the very end that prevented Maten from putting Georgia on top, the Dawgs had several other opportunities late in regulation and the first overtime to win the game, but they just couldn’t capitalize.

Situation #1: With a 1:30 remaining, Maten made a beautiful pass to a cutting Nicolas Claxton who let the ball bounce off his hands and out of bounds rather than catching it and dunking it.  Had Claxton finished the play, Georgia would have held a 63-61 advantage with 1:23 left.  But he didn’t, and Arkansas kicked the ball to guard Anton Beard off of an offensive rebound that broke the tie, making it 63-61 Razorbacks with 28 seconds on the clock.

Situation #2: I realize that Jordan Harris hit a pair of clutch free throws to tie the game and help send Georgia to overtime.  However, he had a chance to give his team the lead with 35 seconds left in the first OT, but the sophomore could only connect on 1 of 2 from the stripe.  Claxton blocked Barford’s lay-up attempt on the next trip down, making Harris’s miss even more painful.

Situation #3: Immediately after Claxton’s block (mentioned above in “Situation #2”) the ball landed in Turtle Jackson’s hands with almost 8 seconds remaining.  Jackson struggled to push the ball up the court and then took a running three-pointer with 2 seconds left that clanked off the right side of the rim.  Turtle has to be aware of the situation in that moment as he probably could have gotten a shot much closer to the rim.

Another big first half lead

Much like the Auburn game, Georgia built up a big lead early, getting up by a count of 27-11 after a triple by E’Torrian Wilridge with 6:40 left in the half.  The Dawgs, a team that averages 5 three-pointers a night in SEC play, had already hit that number by halftime.  Offensively, Arkansas looked lost for much of the first half as they played selfishly and spent a lot of time dribbling and standing around.

But Mike Anderson lit a fire under his squad over the final stretch of play before the break, and his Hogs ratcheted up their defense.  Georgia panicked under the Razorback pressure; the Dawgs did not look a team that was on offense when they possessed the ball.  UGA’s last 6 possessions of the half resulted in 2 turnovers and 4 missed shots, and the teams headed to the locker rooms with Georgia leading 33-28.

Arkansas’s guards just too much

Arkansas guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon are both in the top 10 in the league in scoring in SEC games this season.  Barford leads the conference with over 20 a night, and Macon entered tonight’s game scoring almost 17 a contest.  For the first 33 minutes of regulation, Barford had his way with Georgia, scoring 24 points on a combination of three-pointers and drives.  Credit Coach Fox for putting Jordan Harris on him for the final 6 minutes of play as he kept Barford from scoring again.

Almost on cue, though, Macon began to come on big in the second half and overtime.  Macon, who was held scoreless for the game’s first 20 minutes, ended up with 25 points overall, and he notched 16 of those in the overtimes.  Even as Turtle Jackson extended his defense further out to contest Macon’s three-point attempts, the unconscious Razorback guard just kept edging further away and making shots.

Up next

Georgia takes a break from SEC play this weekend as they hit the road to take on Kansas State as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

 

 

 

Tourney Time! Dawgs and Hogs

Leslie
The Dawgs need Travis Leslie's offense if they hope to make some noise in Nashville

Georgia has lost two straight games, and Arkansas is in the midst of a five-game losing streak.

But guess what?  Nobody cares!

The beauty of the conference tournament is that everybody gets a clean slate, a chance to start over and try to make something special happen over a long weekend.

Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs should be very excited about the opportunity that they have to give a little payback to this Arkansas Razorback team.  Back in February, the Hogs overcame a 15-point halftime deficit in Athens to hand Georgia a 72-68 loss at Stegeman.

The second half of that game was painful to watch.  The Hogs pressure defense frustrated Georgia’s offense, forcing 11 UGA turnovers and limiting the Dawgs to only 40.9% from the field.  Arkansas, on the other hand, shot a blistering 64% from the floor and were led by Courtney Fortson’s 19 second-half points (he finished the game with 27).

Sophomore guard Courtney Fortson is the man on this Razorback team.  He is similar to South Carolina’s Devan Downey, minus the three-point shot.  He is very fast with the basketball in his hands, and he can past defenders to the rim.

Fortson’s numbers in SEC games this season were pretty impressive – 18.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists (first in the SEC).  The only knock on him is his field goal percentage, which sits at 35.5% on the season.  In the first meeting between these two teams, Georgia did not have an answer on how to stop this guy.

His complement in the backcourt is sophomore guard Rotnei Clarke.  Clarke is the shooter on this team, hitting 37.5% from beyond the arc and netting 12.1 points per game in SEC play this season.  The Dawgs did a great job of being aware of where Clarke was on the court in the game in Athens, limiting him to only 2 points.

On the inside, the Hogs are led by freshman Marshawn Powell and senior Michael Washington.  Were it not for the “Diaper Dandies” on Kentucky (Wall, Cousins), Powell would probably be in line for this year’s SEC “Freshman of the Year” award.  In conference play, he is scoring 15.1 points and grabbing 6.9 boards a night, while shooting 50.5 % from the field.  Washington is pouring in 11.3 points and nabbing a team-leading 7.0 rebounds a game in SEC play.

The Arkansas bigs gave the Dawgs post players fits in the second half in Athens.  Washington scored 13 of his 15 after the break, and Powell got all 11 of his points in the second.  The Dawgs were unable to stop either of these guys once they got the ball in their hands on the block.

Keys to the Game

Attack the Zone

Over the past one and a half games, Georgia’s offense has looked inept.  This is the same offense that led the SEC in team field goal percentage (47%), three-point percentage (39.6%) and assists (15.0/game).

Both Kentucky (in the second half) and LSU showed the Dawgs a lot of zone defense, emphasizing pressure on the perimeter.  Georgia’s guards could not get the ball inside or penetrate, and Travis Leslie (especially) was uncharacteristically ineffective – over the past two games, Leslie has scored a total of 15 points and shot 7 of 22 from the floor.

When teams show the Dawgs man defense, the UGA offense works like a well-oiled machine – backdoor cuts, great interior passing and a plethora of Leslie dunks.

But the Dawgs have to be more effective when they see zone.  Ware has got to be more of a penetration threat from the point guard position.  Ricky McPhee and Travis Leslie cannot merely swing the ball back to the top of the key – they must do a better job of getting the ball into Trey Thompkins (and the other UGA bigs), and they have to be able to create (at least some) off the dribble.  If Leslie can dribble the ball into the zone and draw defenders, it will open up so much inside for the Georgia bigs.

Slow Down Courtney

In the first meeting between these two teams, Courtney Fortson scored 27 points and got to the free throw line 16 times (he made 12 of them).  Mark Fox must adjust his defense (zone?) to make it more difficult for Fortson to get into the paint.

This is tricky since you can’t give too much help on Fortson or he will be able to find Clarke for wide open three-point shots.

I am interested to see how Fox chooses to play the Arkansas star.

In Thompkins We Trust

Trey Thompkins finished the season second in the SEC in scoring this at 18.9 points per game.  He came in fourth place in the conference in rebounding this year with 8.4 per contest.  He is a great emotional leader on the floor, and he has openly expressed how much he loves Georgia and how he wants to be a part of turning this program around (he is definitely one of my favorite Dawgs’ basketball players ever).

It’s hard to ask more of this young man considering how much he already does for this team, but Coach Fox needs Trey’s defense more than ever against Arkansas.  Georgia cannot afford to have Powell and Washington pour in points in the paint, and it is going to be on Trey’s shoulders to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Notes

The game is scheduled to tip-off Thursday night at 8:45PM Central Time, 9:45PM Eastern.  Since it’s the fourth and final game of the day, there is a very good chance that it won’t get started until 10:00PM or later.

Go ahead and email/call your boss and let him or her know that you might be in a bit late on Friday, because this one is going to go into the wee hours of the night!

Arkansas wins 72-68

The Georgia Bulldogs went into the half with a 37-22 advantage.

The Arkansas Razorbacks ended the game with a 72-68 advantage.

What happend?

In the first half, the Dawgs shot 51.7% from the field, out-rebounded the Hogs 19-12 and turned the ball over only 6 times.  Georgia had total control of the game, and they were in “cruise control” for a majority of the half.

In the second half, Georgia shot 40.9% from the field, got out-rebounded 19-9 and turned the ball over 11 times.  Arkansas came out of the half and played intense man-to-man and shook Georgia out of their offensive groove (hasn’t this happened before?).  The Hogs out-scored the Dawgs 28-8 in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Oh yeah, and Arkansas shot 64% from the field in the second half.  Georgia did not have an answer for Arkansas star point guard Courtney Fortson, who scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half.

The Dawgs played man defense for a majority of the night, and it worked pretty well in the first half.  However, obviously Coach Pelfrey saw some areas he thought he could exploit in the UGA’s man D – mainly that no one could guard Fortson – and the Hogs outscored Georgia 50-31 in the second half!

Following the game, Coach Fox had this to say about the Dawgs’ defense:    “We’re not making progress in that area. It is failing us. It failed us time and time again in the second half. It’s crushing this team.”

Maybe the Dawgs could have shown Arkansas a different defensive set (like a 2-3 or 1-2-2 zone?) to try to slow them up a bit in the second half?  This might have helped offset Fortson’s dribble-drive penetration…but I guess we will never know.

If this game felt like a bad case of déjà vu, don’t worry…it was.  The Dawgs have now held the lead at the half in 6 out of 7 SEC games this season, and they have only won one of those games.

Georgia has a bit of “closing” problem.

The Dawgs are now 9-11 overall, and 1-6 in the SEC.

Side Notes:

-Thompkins led the Dawgs with 21 points and 7 rebounds

-Jeremy Price scored 11 points in the first half, but he didn’t account for any points in the second half.

-In a game where Georgia was expected to have the advantage on the glass, Arkansas out-rebounded the Dawgs 31-28

Any chance Georgia can turn this thing around Saturday against Vandy?