Dawgs fall again at the last second, but continue to show improvement

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About that last sequence

The Georgia Bulldogs (10-18, 1-14) played outstanding defense for 27 seconds on its final defensive possession on Wednesday night. Both Derek Ogbeide and Nic Claxton recorded blocks on opposing Auburn dribble-drivers. Even the final play, in which Chuma Okeke buried the dagger of a triple with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, was defended well by Jordan Harris – his only flaw was that he wasn’t 4″ taller to better obstruct the view of the 6’8″ Okeke. I’ve rewatched that play several times, and it really was just a matter of getting the ball into the hands of a 37% three-point shooter, who happened to knock down the biggest shot of his young career.

UGA’s last possession, though, left some doubt. Down by 3 with 24 ticks remaining, the Dawgs had two choices: drive the ball to the basket and try to get a quick 2 or a foul, or go for the tie. Georgia’s final offensive play looked shaky from the start as Turtle Jackson lost the ball briefly while bringing it up the court against Bryce Brown’s defensive pressure. With about 14 seconds left, Tom Crean had the opportunity to call a timeout and go for a reset, but he decided to let his guys play it out, and the result was an errant last-second chuck from Tyree Crump that fell way short of the basket. Final score: Auburn 78, UGA 75.

Defensive halftime adjustments

Auburn entered this contest averaging almost 12 triples a night in SEC play, and they were in the top four in the league in team scoring. The Tigers pace offensively for the first 20 minutes was relentless, which lead to numerous fast break points (9) and a plethora of open looks from the perimeter in both transition and the half court sets. By halftime, Auburn was right at their SEC average from beyond the arc at the half (40%), and they’d already knocked down 8 triples. In all honesty, Auburn has superior talent compared to Georgia (especially with Rayshaun Hammonds inactive), and the Tigers had no trouble getting any type of shot they wanted prior to the break, hence the 50 first-half points.

However, Tom Crean put his Georgia team in an extended 2-3 zone to start the second half in an effort to better guard the Tigers on the perimeter, and this strategy worked well as Auburn mustered just 7 points in the initial 6 minutes out of the intermission. With a little over 14 minutes remaining, the Dawgs had whittled the Tigers 10-point halftime lead down to 57-52. The Tigers settled for three-pointers that wouldn’t fall instead of attacking the rim, and they committed 5 turnovers during this same timespan.

This defensive look allowed Georgia to dictate the pace of the game in the second half, and the slower tempo did not suit Auburn. Bruce Pearl failed to make any significant offensive adjustments to counter the Dawgs’ zone, so Tom Crean kept his team in this look for nearly the entire second half. The result: the Tigers shot just 39% from the floor and made only 3 of 11 from beyond the arc. Jared Harper, who torched Georgia for 16 first-half points, only got 6 more following the break. It hasn’t been often this season that UGA’s defense has brought them back into games, but last evening this most certainly was the case.

UGA’s offense also improved over the course of this game. Auburn, a team that is 4th in the SEC at forcing its opponents into turnovers (15.2), had caused UGA to cough it up 10 times by the half, and those mishaps led to 15 points for the Tigers. In this contest’s final 20 minutes, though, UGA committed just 4 more turnovers that only cost them 5 points. Georgia’s stronger ball security prevented Auburn from being able to get quicker scores in transition, and as I said earlier, the Tigers did not seem comfortable playing a half court game.

Georgia’s backcourt improvement

The Achilles’ heel of this UGA team this season has been its guard play, but that narrative is slowly changing for the better, and it can be directly attributed to the improved play that Tom Crean is getting from both Jordan Harris and Turtle Jackson.

Harris’s trajectory continues to trend upward as he set a new career-high in scoring on Wednesday night by finishing with 18 points. The junior has now ended up in double-figures in 9 of the past 10 games, and he’s netting 11.5 points a night during that stretch. Harris’s confidence is cleary up, and he’s easily Georgia’s best dribble-driver.

Turtle Jackson, who scored all 13 of his points last night before the intermission, continues to provide Georgia with steady offense from the perimeter, and he’s doing a much better job of facilitating Crean’s offense. Jackson is hitting just shy of 40% of his attempts from beyond the arc in SEC play, and over the past 3 games, he’s dished out 15 assists to just 5 turnovers. With only handful of games remaining in his career, it appears that Turtle is growing into the point guard that this team has desperately needed all season.

Box score:

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Auburn too much for Georgia in 93-78 win

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 1-2) are going to continue to find the sledding fairly tough when they take on competition of the calibre of the #11 Auburn Tigers (12-3, 1-1), especially considering that Bruce Pearl has one of the best backcourts in the nation in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. It’s no secret: guard play is the glaring weakness of this UGA team. Harper and Brown had no trouble exploiting the Dawgs’ Achilles Heel as they combined for 37 points on a 7 for 13 shooting performance from the three-point line in the Tigers’ 93-78 win over Georgia.

Believe it or not, this game was actually close for several stretches. Georgia came out of the half and cut a 10-point Tiger lead to just a 54-48 advantage following a triple by Teshaun Hightower with 17:05 remaining. It didn’t take long for Auburn to stretch the lead back into double-digits, though, as Harper connected on one of his 4 three’s to send the Tigers up 61-48 with 15:27 remaining.

Georgia sort of hung around for the remainder of the game, and by that I mean they stayed within 10 points at times; but the Dawgs couldn’t trim the Tiger advantage to single digits the rest of the way, and Auburn continued to push the pace.

After trailing 13-4 early on in this one, Georgia went on an 8-0 run and actually took a brief 22-20 lead on a Jordan Harris three-pointer with 11:20 left in the first half. The referees called the game pretty tight from the opening tip, and that kept Bruce Pearl’s team from ramping up the game’s tempo, which definitely benefited Georgia.

The Dawgs were in the bonus for over 10 minutes in the first half of play. Georgia took advantage and made 8 of 9 free throws. However, UGA stopped attacking as much and started to settle for too many threes, which is not a good look for this Georgia team as they went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc before the break; the Dawgs hit just 3 of their last 14 field goal attempts heading into the intermission, and Auburn took a commanding 48-38 lead into the half.

Nic Claxton had consecutive possessions in the opening 20 minutes where he took Austin Wiley off the dribble and pulled up to knock down jumpers just inside the three-point line. Again, that’s a 6’11” center doing something that’s meant for a point guard. Insane.

Claxton finished with 15 points and tied his career-high 6 blocks. Auburn applied full-court pressure for most of the game, and Claxton routinely brought the ball up the court. While it is absolutely wonderful to have a center who can do this, I’m not certain it didn’t begin to wear the sophomore down as the game went on. In an ideal world, Georgia would have a guard or two that could handle this responsibility so that Claxton could spend more time in proximity to the rim.

The Tigers had 5 players end up in double-figures, but probably the biggest offensive spark came from reserve Anthony Mclemore, who scored 11 of his 15 points prior to the break. He was active on the glass and without the ball, and he really ignited an Auburn offense that started the game rather stagnant. When Mclemore entered the game, his team trailed 26-22 with a little over 10 minutes remaining; he was a major reason why Bruce Pearl’s team was able to take control of this game heading into the half.

Three tough stats that didn’t go Georgia’s way:

  1. Auburn outscored UGA 40-24 in the paint.
  2. Auburn notched 20 second-chance points to UGA’s 13.
  3. Auburn scored 21 points off of 16 UGA turnovers; the Dawgs had 15 POT themselves.

I hate to be a moral victory type of fan, but I found myself surprised that Georgia competed as much as they did in this one, especially considering what happened last Saturday in Knoxville. I certainly didn’t expect the Dawgs to have much of a lead, let alone for 5.5% of the game.

That being said, the struggle will continue to be real for Georgia whenever they face teams with above average backcourts. Unfortunately, I just described both of UGA’s opponents for next week: #18 Kentucky and Florida. Whoever designed this SEC slate for Tom Crean’s first jaunt through the league has a cruel sense of humor.

Auburn completes season sweep of Georgia with 78-61 win

Auburn played yesterday without Bryce Brown, the team’s leading scorer and the potential SEC Player of the Year candidate.  Based upon the relative ease in which the Tigers dispatched the Dawgs in Stegeman, he didn’t appeared to be missed.  It was painfully obvious how much more talented Bruce Pearl’s team is than Mark Fox’s.  Auburn has multiple players that can hit three-pointers while Georgia might have one.  The Tigers have 4 or 5 guys that can create offense off the dribble; do the Dawgs have anyone with that skill set?

I’m venturing that the UGA coaching staff felt that with Brown out the Dawgs could man up on the Tigers in an effort to contest shots on the perimeter.  Unfortunately, the Georgia guards couldn’t stay in front of the Auburn guards as the Tigers got to the rim whenever they wanted.  The smaller Tigers scored 30 points in the paint on the afternoon to Georgia’s 26.

In the second half, Georgia went to a zone because they couldn’t defend Pearl’s team in man.  The problem, though, was that the Dawgs lost interest in guarding the arc.  Auburn hit 6 of its 11 triples after the break, and most of them were completely uncontested. The Tigers came into Athens averaging 10.5 three-pointers a night in SEC play, with Brown contributing 4 a game.  The fact that Georgia allowed Auburn to best their conference average without the services of their most dangerous shooter is a true testament to the lack of commitment that the Dawgs showed in defending the perimeter.

Several of the Auburn three’s came off of offensive rebounds during a particularly devastating stretch of play for the Dawgs.  The Tigers’ Mustapha Heron put his stamp on the game with a thunderous one-handed dunk that was also the result of an offensive board.  Heron’s bucket sent UGA fans to the exits as it made it 72-56 with 3:24 remaining. The Tigers got 15 of their 78 points off of second chances.  From where I was sitting, it looked like the home team gave up in the second half.

Offense looks real simple when the point guard can pass the ball to the wing, and then that wing can blow by his man and finish at the bucket. That’s not really the Georgia way.  UGA’s possessions have truly become adventures that have me cringing for the entire 30 seconds.  Nothing looks easy.  Turtle dribbled the ball out of bounds twice attempting to perform a simple crossover dribble. Derek Ogbeide threw one pass directly into the stands from the top of the key. Tyree Crump had multiple passes taken right from his hands as he couldn’t get the ball around the Auburn defender. From the start of the game, Bruce Pearl implored his backcourt to pick up and pressure UGA’s guards as soon as the ball crossed half court.  If Georgia had a player like Heron or Jared Harper, a team couldn’t defend them in this manner because those guys would just go around the defender and then the entire defense would be at a disadvantage (basically what happened to UGA all afternoon).  But alas, this Bulldog team is lacking in dribble-drivers and its the reason why they struggle to muster 60 points a game.

Georgia had a couple possessions where they quickly pushed the ball up the court and got it inside to Yante Maten.  Those were nice moments.  Sadly, there were only a few of them.  The Dawgs had 13 turnovers that led to 25 Tiger points.  UGA shot 28% from beyond the arc.

At this point, Georgia should just start Crump, Juwan Parker, Maten, Nicolas Claxton and Rayshaun Hammonds, who had become sort of the forgotten man, was reinserted into the starting five and he played admirably, scoring 14 points.  Those are the players with the most talent and potential, and Fox mind as well get the young fellas the experience now in the hopes that it benefits them more next season.  This season is a wash.  Anyone still counting quality wins and thinking the Dawgs might go on a run to make a push for the NCAA tournament is living in fantasy land.  At 13-11, Georgia’s probably going to struggle to even be considered for the NIT.  This was supposed to be Mark Fox’s deepest team yet (according to him).  How have things unraveled so much from the team’s 11-3 start?

 

Box score:

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Georgia and Auburn lock-up in Stegeman on Wednesday night

The Georgia Bulldogs are part of a five-way tie that exists within the SEC for teams with 2-4 conference records. This week, the Dawgs will have the opportunity to play two of those teams that are residing in the same logjam – Auburn and South Carolina.

Considering that Georgia’s schedule strength is currently ranked 33rd by ESPN’s RPI tool, this week’s games should appear more welcoming for a Dawgs team that has played an intense SEC slate thus far.

The Dawgs and the Tigers are coming off of contrasting Saturday experiences. Georgia snuck up on Texas A & M and walked out of College Station with 59-52 road victory, while Auburn lost a 63-61 heartbreaker at home to #16 Ole Miss (declaimer – Ole Miss shot 4-17 from the free throw line). The loss to the Rebels marked Auburn’s fourth in a row after beginning SEC play with back-to-back wins. The Tigers have a road date with #17 Missouri slated for this Saturday, meaning that Georgia should be ready to deal with an Auburn team that will be playing with a sense of urgency in order to avoid its fifth-straight loss.

Auburn is led by its seniors – point guard Frankie Sullivan and 6’10” big man Roy Chubb – who are both averaging in double-figures, with Sullivan topping all Tiger scorers at over 15 points per SEC game. Chubb, a native of Peachtree City, is fifth in the league in rebounding at 9 boards a night.

The Tigers have not defended well in conference games, yielding over 72 points per contest, which is fortunate for a UGA team that has trouble putting the ball in the bucket – remember, the Dawgs are dead-last in offense in league games at 56.7 points per night.

Georgia’s scoring problem might have something to do with the fact that the team is only hoisting up just 45 field goal attempts per SEC game, which is worst in the league. The reason for the Dawgs’ low number of attempts: turnovers and a lack of presence on the offensive glass.

While Georgia only coughed the ball up 12 times against the Aggies, they are still averaging over 16 giveaways a night in league games. On top of that carelessness, when the Dawgs do manage to put up a shot, they rarely give themselves a second chance – UGA is snagging a conference-low 8.5 boards per SEC contest.

A win over Auburn would move Georgia into a tie with Tennessee for seventh place in the SEC. It would also move the Dawgs’ records – both overall and conference – one step closer to .500.

After a strong showing last Saturday against the Aggies, I am anxious to see how this UGA team handles a little bit of success.

Georgia @ Auburn Wednesday 9:00PM EST

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Jeremy Price is averaging 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds over his last two games.

The Georgia Bulldogs (10-11, 2-6 SEC) head to The Plains on Wednesday to take on the Auburn Tigers (11-12, 2-6 SEC).   The loser of this contest will earn sole possession of the SEC’s second-worst record.

The Auburn Tigers are 8-5 while playing at home this season, but their SEC home record sits at an abysmal 1-3 (the only win over 3-6 Alabama).

However, if there is one team in this conference that you can get healthy against on your home court it’s the Georgia Bulldogs.  The Dawgs are win-less in seven true road games, including 0-4 in SEC away match-ups.

The Tigers style of play is best described as chaotic.  They look to press teams, run the court and shoot threes.  And when I say “shoot threes”, I mean like no other team in the conference.  Auburn is hoisting up 25 three-pointers a game in SEC play, accounting for nearly 43% of their overall field goal attempts!

Unfortunately for the Tigers, they are only making 32.5% as a team from beyond the arc.  However, they are leading the SEC with 8.13 three-pointers made a game (mostly due to the sheer number of shots that they take).

Auburn’s backcourt features seniors DeWayne Reed and Tay Waller (a native of Manchester, GA), along with sophomore Frankie Sullivan.  The tallest of this bunch is Waller, who stands at a mere 6’2″.  This might explain their fondness for the long ball.

DeWayne Reed leads the Tigers in both scoring and assists, averaging 16.0 and 4.4 a game, respectively.  Sullivan is the most accurate shooter on the team, knocking down 39.7% from three-point range and scoring 13.4 a game.  Waller shoots 37.6% from beyond the arc, and is averaging 12.9 points.

Seniors Lucas Hargrove and Johnnie Lett round out Auburn’s starting frontcourt.  Hargrove (6’6″) is the team’s leading rebounder with 7.1 a game to go along with 13.3 points.  Lett is the taller of the two, standing at 6’8″ and weighing 210 pounds – he only nets 2.3 points a night.  Lett starts most games, but he actually yields a lot of playing time to reserve 6’10” senior center Brendan Knox.  Knox is averaging 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in only 20 minutes of play.

Auburn plays a lot of guys off the bench, but none of them average more than 3.5 points per game and thus seem unworthy of being mentioned.

Keys to the Game

Winning After A Win

Georgia followed up their win over Georgia Tech with a loss at Kentucky (forgivable).  The Dawgs followed up their win over Tennessee by getting blown out in Gainesville (not as forgivable).  Georgia is coming off its third win of the season over a ranked opponent (Vandy), and now the team heads back on the road…seeing the pattern here?  Hopefully Fox has everyone on the team focused on the upcoming task at hand, as opposed to rejoicing in last Saturday’s upset of then #18 ranked Vanderbilt.  It seems unlikely that Georgia could take Auburn lightly, especially since UGA has yet to win a game away from Athens this season.  But these are 18 and 19-year old kids, so anything is possible.

Tempo, Tempo

As I mentioned, Auburn likes to apply full-court pressure and play at a fast pace.  The Tigers are tied for second in the conference with 7.38 steals per game.  Georgia is last in the SEC in turnover margin at -5.5, and the Dawgs are giving the ball away 17.3 times a game.  If Georgia’s guards are careless with the ball (see Missouri, Kentucky, Miss St or Florida games) and can’t handle the press this game could get ugly.

However, if UGA breaks the press and turns this thing into a half-court  game, I don’t see how Auburn can compete.  The Tigers are last in the conference in scoring defense, surrendering 77.2 a game in SEC play.    The Georgia bigs will have a distinct size advantage inside and should look to exploit it all night.  Auburn’s SEC rebounding margin is -1.5 per game, which is to be expected considering their small lineup.

Coach Mark Fox will want his guys to play half-court ball and totally dominate the paint.

Mix It Up

The last two games, Georgia has played primarily man-to-man defense the entire game (which I love).  However, due to Auburn’s preference for shots from outside the three-point line, it might be beneficial to the Dawgs to mix in some of their 1-2-2 zone as well.  Offenses can struggle when they face multiple defensive sets, and the 1-2-2 zone will still allow Georgia to contest three-point attempts (the 1-2-2 zone worked very well against MSU earlier in the year – another team that likes to chuck it)

Bonus Note

Several of this blog’s regular commentors have mentioned the marked improvement in Georgia’s passing game since the arrival of Coach Fox.  As of February 6th, 2010, the Dawgs are leading the SEC with 15.0 assists per game!

Not to fluff Coach Fox’s feathers too much, but his UGA squad is also leading the conference in field goal and three-point percentage at 49.2% and 42.7%, respectively.

Thank you Triangle Offense!

Don’t forget to vote for Travis Leslie as the Best Dunker in the SEC