Kentucky overcomes upset-minded UGA

12450736When Yante Maten went down with a knee injury just two minutes into the game yesterday against Kentucky, the collective hopes of everyone inside Stegemen Coliseum rooting for Georgia to get the signature win it desperately needed took a major hit. Maten spent about 10 minutes in the locker room before gingerly making his way back to the UGA bench, where he sat for the rest of the evening.  Georgia’s big man, who has been a nightmare for opposing defenses all season, could barely put any pressure on his right leg.

This should have been enough to break the Dawgs’ spirits.  With their leader done for the night, UGA could easily have crumbled, considering the daunting task that now lay before them.  Yet, for some reason, they didn’t. Georgia simply dug in and went toe-to-toe with the #13 Wildcats for the next 38 minutes.  Kentucky’s roster is so loaded with talent that Coach Calipari sends in 5-star recruits off the bench, whereas Mark Fox has to add Juwan Parker and Mike Edwards’s recruiting stars together to get to five.  Regardless, the Dawgs found themselves with possession of the basketball with 44 seconds left and the game tied at 75 apiece.  As the shot clock melted down, Kentucky sent an extra defender to jump J.J. Frazier at the top of the key.  Frazier kicked it to Pape Diatta, who forced the ball into the lane and ended up getting blocked by two Wildcat defenders.  The Cats took the lead on the ensuing possession following a pair of free throws from De’Aaron Fox, Frazier missed his next jumper and Kentucky managed to hit its free throws and escape from Athens with the 82-77 road win.

Despite the overwhelming amount of talent that Calipari has at his disposal, the best player on the court on Saturday was easily Georgia’s J.J. Frazier.  J.J. hit a three-pointer with time expiring from just inside Milledge Avenue to cut the Kentucky lead to 33-31 as the teams headed into the intermission.  This shot electrified the Steg and was just a little preview of what UGA fans could expect to see from their point guard in the second half.

After the break, Frazier became superman.  J.J. diced up the Kentucky defense and scored 22 points on an array of challenging layups that seemingly increased in difficulty level as the game progressed. By the end of this contest, Frazier had 36 points, and Kentucky had a bunch of angry guards who had fouled out trying to deal with him.  Isaiah Briscoe, who had over 20 points when these team met earlier in Lexington, couldn’t control his emotions as J.J. continually bruised his ego; Briscoe would score only 9 points before fouling out with almost 5 minutes left in the game.  His replacement, Dominique Hawkins, also racked up 5 personals trying to stay in front of Frazier.

Even De’Aaron Fox missed significant minutes due to foul trouble (another credit to Frazier), but Fox got himself together and poured in 14 of his 16 points after the break, providing Kentucky the spark it desperately needed to keep up with the Dawgs.

As fantastic as Frazier played, he didn’t pull off this near upset all by himself. Juwan Parker and Mike Edwards also ended up in double-figures with 10 points each.  Edwards played with a level of toughness inside that he hadn’t yet displayed in his initial two years in Athens.

Derek Ogbeide only chipped in 4 points, but he was the anchor of the UGA defense, holding down the paint and snagging a team-high 11 rebounds.  Bam Adebayo scored 13 points for the Cats, but half of those points came at the expense of Houston Kessler.

And while Diatta’s quasi-turnover came at an incredibly inopportune time for the Dawgs, Pape played an otherwise solid second half.  He scored all 9 of his points after the break, including a huge three-pointer from the wing that gave Georgia a 64-61 lead with a little over 5 minutes remaining.

The only other Kentucky player to score in double-digits was Malik Monk, who notched 16 points on a frustrating 3 for 11 performance from the field, a far cry from the 37-point effort he put in the first time these teams matched up.

For the most part, UGA played a pretty sound game defensively.  Probably the biggest negative the Dawgs will take away from this game is that they allowed the Cats to control the glass by a tally of 41-26.  More importantly, UGA yielded 14 offensive boards to Kentucky, which led to 8 second chance points that may have ultimately been the difference in this one.

In the end, Georgia came up a little short of pulling off this miracle, and Coach Fox’s teams have now lost 23 straight games to ESPN RPI Top 25 teams.  A season that began with high expectations may be over in less than 3 weeks.  With a 15-12 record (6-8 SEC), UGA isn’t going to the NCAA tournament, and depending on Maten’s status, they may miss the NIT as well.

With all that being said, UGA fans had to be darn proud of the way those kids in the white jerseys fought for 40 minutes yesterday.


Dawgs take Kentucky to overtime before losing 90-81

The Georgia Bulldogs (13-9) were a J.J. Frazier floater away from stunning the #8 Kentucky (18-4) Wildcats on their home floor and giving Coach Calipari his first ever three-game losing streak as the team’s skipper. But J.J.’s shot drew all glass (similarly to the Florida game) and sent the game into overtime, where the Dawgs simply ran out of magic.  The Cats overpowered Georgia in the extra 5 minutes and snapped its two-game losing streak by pulling out the 90-81 home win.

What went well for Georgia…

The Dawgs were at their best at the beginning and end of regulation.  Coach Mark Fox could not have scripted a better start for this game as his team jumped out to a 12-0 lead after barely 3 minutes of play.  Kentucky came out and tried to play the Dawgs in man defense and that just didn’t work.  Yante Maten scored the game’s first 7 points, and 4 of those came in the paint over the Cats’ Bam Adebayo.  The Dawgs connected on 9 of their first 10 field goals and held a 19-5 lead with 14:07 left before the break.

UGA played equally strong over the latter stretch of regulation.  With just 6:26 remaining and the Cats leading 66-58, the game started to feel as though it was slipping away for Georgia.  But the Dawgs would not relent.  Frazier scored 9 points over the last 6 minutes, making off-balanced lay ups and hitting an off the dribble three-pointer to bring his team within 2 points.  Freshman Jordan Harris stepped up as well and made an old-fashioned three-point play and later hit a shot from beyond the arc with 1:56 left that actually put the Dawgs up 73-71.

What didn’t go well for Georgia…

Coach Cal realized quickly that his team was struggling to defend Georgia in man, so he switch them into zone so that the bigs could double down on Maten whenever he touched it in the paint.  The result: Maten went scoreless over the final 18 minutes of play before the intermission and the Dawgs made only 3 of their final 15 shots from the floor.  After scoring 12 points before Big Blue Nation could find its seats, Georgia managed just 17 points over the final 16:48 of the half.

UGA failed to limit Kentucky to just one shot for much of the night.  Despite opening up a huge lead to begin the game, Georgia and Kentucky went into the break knotted up at 29 apiece because the Dawgs could not defensive rebound.  The Cats shot just 29% from the floor before halftime, but thanks to 11 offensive boards that led to 13 second chance points, they were able to claw their way back into the game.  Before it was all said and done, Kentucky would have 17 offensive rebounds and a whopping 24 second chance points.

Georgia’s matchup zone worked well for much of the night, but occasionally superstars just take over, and that’s exactly what happened inside Rupp Arena last evening.  Malik Monk, who only scored 6 points prior to the intermission, scorched the Dawgs for 31 over the final 25 minutes of this one.  Monk hit 7 three-pointers on the evening, many of which were with a hand in his face.  And it was Monk who delivered the contested baseline jumper over the outstretched arms of Derek Ogbeide to tie the game at 76, which forced this contest into overtime.

The other Wildcat that UGA failed to corral was Isaiah Briscoe, who has to be one of the most physical guards in the country.  Briscoe tirelessly pounded the ball inside and got himself to the line, where he scored 11 of his 23 points.  In addition to the offense, the Cats’ point guard hauled in a team-high 11 rebounds.  Ultimately, Monk and Briscoe were too much for Georgia to handle in Lexington, and I shudder to think of how UGA will match up with this Kentucky team when they come to Athens with the services of starter De’aaron Fox, who was out last night with a stomach bug.

Final thoughts…

Maten and Ogbeide played great, scoring 22 and 18, respectively.  Ogbeide also snagged 13 boards en route to a double-double.  These two dominated the inside on offense, and they really forced Calipari to change the way he wanted to defend the Dawgs.

Frazier had kind of a tough game until the final moments, but he did end up with a gutty 23 points, though it came at the expense of an 8 for 21 shooting effort.

But credit Coach Fox’s team for putting up a heck of a fight against a top 10 team in a building where they lost by 34 points a year ago.



Final thoughts on Kentucky, I mean Calipari

Kentucky basketball Coach John Calipari appeared briefly on yesterday’s “Pardon the Interruption”, an ESPN show hosted by Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

Kornheiser and Wilbon gushed over Calipari like a couple of school girls, treating him like the college basketball icon he is not.

If either of these two former reporters had any cojones they would have asked Coach Calipari to defend his one-and-done strategy that is slowly ruining college basketball by watering down the level of talent on the court.

Even better, they could have inquired about  Calipari’s recruiting successes.   I especially would have enjoyed hearing the coach explain how in his first three years on the job he signed 8 McDonald’s All-Americans – the same number that his predecessors signed over the previous 11 years!

Now, I know that people in Kentucky like their round ball – the slew of home-knitted blue sweaters in Stegeman on Tuesday were a dead give away.  I’m also aware that the Cats have a history of playing competitive basketball.

But the way that Coach Calipari has turned UK into its own little NBA factory in three years is pretty amazing.

How could he elevate a program so quickly?

I know he had problems at his previous job – Memphis – in which some players may or may not have been playing eligibly.  Coach Cal skirted out of town before Derrick Rose landed in Chicago.

I also remember him having some issues at UMASS – something about Marcus Camby receiving improper benefits around the time (1996) when the Minutemen were heading to the Final Four?  If you don’t recall this scandal, Bobby Knight brought it up at his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Calipari scooted out of town before the fire actually started, leaving another program to fend for itself amongst a sea of NCAA accusations.

In March of 2010, Slate Magazine labeled Calipari the “sleaziest coach” in college basketball, and I couldn’t agree more.

Whatever successes the Cats enjoy under Calipari will surely be vacated shortly thereafter, and I would not be at all surprised to see this program hit with some serious NCAA sanctions (soon).  The inflow of McD’s All-Americans just doesn’t add up – or, it does add up if you look at the history of the man bringing them into the school.

Another prediction – Calipari will be long gone while Kentucky weather’s the NCAA storm.