UGA defense drops the ball in 89-74 defeat in Tuscaloosa

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This Georgia team’s biggest issue for the season has been turnovers, which were still a problem on Wednesday as the Dawgs coughed the ball up 13 times to Alabama, and the Crimson Tide managed to turn those mishaps into 22 points.

However, as of late, UGA’s defense has been its most limiting factor. They say that defense travels, but obviously, the Georgia D didn’t make this trip. Several days removed from allowing the South Carolina Gamecocks – one of the poorer shooting teams in the conference – to torch them from the perimeter with an 11 for 16 performance, the Dawgs once again struggled to defend the three-point line. The Tide connected on nearly 39% from beyond the arc, and none of those makes was more deadly than the 2 by Tevin Mack that allowed Bama to build up a double-digit lead (53-42) in just a little over 3 minutes into the second half.

The Dawgs are now last in the conference in scoring defense (80 ppg) in SEC play, and they are 3rd from the bottom in three-point percentage defense. Bama scoring 89 points means that Georgia has now yielded 80+ points to 3 of its last 4 conference opponents. Yikes!

But it’s not just the perimeter where UGA’s defense is failing. Alabama got WAY too many easy baskets around the rim because Georgia’s help defense continues to remain either too slow or disinterested. How many times did a Bama guard beat one of Georgia’s backcourt defenders and go all the way to the rim for a lay up? I lost count. The Tide scored 28 of its 41 first-half points in the paint, and they ended up with 48 points inside on the game. I’m not sure if Nicolas Claxton is playing more tentative to avoid getting in foul trouble, but he was certainly guilty of not rotating to help on multiple defensive possessions. Avery Johnson’s team made nearly 57% of its field goal attempts Wednesday, and that’s completely unacceptable. Winning on the road is almost impossible when the other team is scoring on 3 of every 5 possessions.

The first half of this game was fun, though, right? The pace was up tempo as the Dawgs and Tide played a back-and-forth 20 minutes in which both teams shot above 48% from the floor.

Alabama, however, proved that it could play defense when it needed to in the second half, when Georgia could not. The Tide limited UGA to just 34% from the floor in the second 20 minutes of play, and Johnson’s team forced the Dawgs into 7 more turnovers. UGA doesn’t have the offensive firepower this season to try to outscore teams for 40 minutes, save the Texas game, so Georgia better figure some things out defensively or the Dawgs could be stuck on 1 SEC win for quite a while.

Shout-out to…

Derek Ogbeide, despite playing through what has to be his most trying season at Georgia, continues to improve as the season progresses. Against the Tide, the senior led all UGA scorers with 17 points, marking his 4th consecutive SEC game in double-figures scoring.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul count

Last season, Hammonds tallied 81 personal fouls on the year. After Wednesday’s 4-foul performance, the sophomore now has 71 PFs this season, and he should have no trouble eclipsing last year’s total with 9 conference games remaining in the regular season. Hammonds had 13 points last night, but he played just 21 minutes. He’s this team’s best scoring option, yet Hammonds cannot manage to stay on the floor, which is definitely one of this year’s mysteries. I imagine this situation must be incredibly frustrating for Crean.

Box score:

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Georgia wins without Maten

They double-teamed him.  They threw junk traps at him when he crossed half court.  At times, Alabama even had a defender completely face guarding him without any help responsibility.  Tide coach Avery Johnson threw the kitchen sink at Georgia’s J.J. Frazier, and in the end, none of it worked.  Frazier scored 11 of Georgia’s final 12 points and helped guide his team to a 60-55 road win over an Alabama team that is trying to position itself for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

J.J. seems to be saving his best basketball for the finish of his UGA career as he followed up last Saturday’s 36-point effort in the loss to Kentucky with a 28-point game tonight in Tuscaloosa.  Frazier once again put the Dawgs on his back and dropped 17 points in the second half, but one play in particular truly typified the toughness and fight that he brings to this team, night in, night out.  With over 4 minutes left in the game, Alabama took a Derek Ogbeide miss and quickly pushed it up the floor with a chance to take its first lead of the night, only to have Frazier chase down point guard Dazon Ingram and strip the ball away.  J.J. then jetted past the lone Tide defender and soared for the basket, which pushed the UGA advantage up to 54-51.  Just when Alabama appeared poised to take control of the game’s momentum, Frazier masterfully stole it right back.

While J.J. was certainly fantastic in this contest, Georgia definitely missed Maten inside.  After opening up a 30-18 halftime lead in which the Crimson Tide shot an abysmal 22% from the floor, Georgia’s failure to handle its business on the defensive glass allowed the Crimson Tide to creep back into the game.  Alabama ended up with 17 offensive rebounds, which is 3 more than their SEC average, and they scored 17 of their 55 points off of second chance points.  In contrast, the Dawgs managed to grab only 3 offensive boards, and they were out-rebounded by a count of 42-30.

Even though Bama has been one of the more inept offensive teams in conference play, credit the Bulldogs for holding them to 16 points under their SEC game average.  The Tide had two stretches in the first half – one of 7 minutes and one of 5 – in which they were unable to convert a field goal.

For UGA, Frazier was the only player to finish in double-figures, while the Tide had three guys end up in double-digits, with Ar’Mond Davis leading the way with 17 points.

Ultimately, Coach Mark Fox’s team has to be breathing a huge sigh of relief as they avoided losing their 5th conference game this year in which the Dawgs held a lead in the final 4 minutes of the game.  In addition, Georgia proved that while it will certainly be more difficult, they are capable of winning without Yante Maten.

The Dawgs have a super short turnaround before returning home to play the LSU Tigers in Athens on Saturday evening.

 

 

The Crimson Tide Roll Into Athens

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Swimmer Boy will attempt to distract and frighten Alabama players at the free-throw line

I think most UGA basketball fans would agree that Mark Fox’s first season has been a pleasant surprise.  This year we have seen Trey Thompkins develop into one of the best post players in the SEC.  Travis Leslie’s improvement and play has been exceptional, and he has shown up on ESPN’s “Top Plays” nearly as often as Kentucky’s John Wall.

This team has won a slew of games that on paper it probably shouldn’t have – Georgia Tech, Illinois, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – and has lost some very close games to some very good teams – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee.

Overall, we want to think that this year’s team has improved from the dismal 2008-2009 campaign in which the Dawgs finished 3-13 in the SEC and had their coach fired before season’s end.

But sometimes the proof is in the pudding, and it sure would be nice to justify this improvement with a win over Alabama (4-7 SEC; 14-11 overall) on Saturday.  A victory against the Crimson Tide would give Georgia (3-8 SEC; 11-13 overall) its 4th SEC win (one more than last year), a wonderful piece of supporting evidence that this program is in fact moving in the right direction.

Alabama is led by first year coach Anthony Grant, who like Mark Fox, is transitioning from a mid-major schedule to the rigors of the SEC.  Grant was extremely successful at his last job with Virginia Commonwealth, leading the Rams to the NCAA tournament 2 out of the last 3 years.

And also like Fox, Grant’s Crimson Tide squad has beaten several big name teams this year – Baylor, Michigan, Mississippi State and Arkansas.  The Tide have suffered three one-point losses this season in SEC games, making them a mere 3 points away from possibly being 7-5 in the conference.

The strength of this Alabama team is its intense, pressure defense.  The Tide are first in the SEC in scoring defense, surrendering only 61.4 points a game (they rank 55th nationally in this statistical category).  They are holding SEC opponents to only 40.8% shooting from the field, and 26.8% from beyond the arc.  The Tide have held opposing squads under 60 points seven times this season.

On the offensive side of things, the picture is not as pretty for Alabama.  The Tide rank 11th in the conference in scoring offense at 61.1 per game, and have struggled in the half court set due to inconsistent outside shooting.

Alabama returns four starters from last year’s team that beat the Dawgs in Tuscaloosa 75-70.

Senior point guard Mikhail Torrance and sophomore forward JaMychal Green are leading the Tide in scoring in conference games at 14.8 each.  At 6’5″, Torrance is a tough match-up for most point guards in the league.  He likes to push the ball up the court and get his team into transition quickly (remember that they don’t score as efficiently in the half court).  He is also a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 35% of his three-point attempts.  Torrance compliments his scoring with a team-leading 5.4 assists per game.

JaMychal Green is the scoring , rebounding (7.1 in SEC play) and shot-blocking leader (1.88 per game) in the Tide’s rather large frontcourt.  He is a very skilled athlete at 6’9″/220 lbs, and rumor has it he turned down Kentucky to come to Tuscaloosa.  Green is has posted 5 double-doubles already this season.

Junior Chris Hines starts at the other forward position, however, fellow junior Justin Knox rotates into the game quickly as these two guys share a lot of minutes.  Hines is 6’8″ and 220 lbs, while Knox stands at 6’9″ and tips the scales at 240 lbs.  Neither of these players scores many points (Hines – 3.3; Knox 5.7), but both provide some serious beef inside defensively.

The other two starters for the Tide are both natives of the state of Georgia, freshman forward Tony Mitchell (6’6″) and junior guard Senario Hillman.  Mitchell has had a very solid freshman campaign, averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and making 34% of his three’s in SEC Play.  Hillman is another one of the Tide’s three-point threats, connecting on 34% of his three’s and averaging 7.8 points in conference games (he also scored 19 on Georgia in last year’s game).

Coach Grant’s team does not have a lot of depth, as they only play roughly eight guys night in, night out.  Junior guard Charvez Davis and senior point guard Anthony Brock are the only other reserves (other than Knox) that typically see the floor.  Both of these guards are hitting nearly 37% of their three-point attempts in SEC play, so you have to be aware of where they are on the court.

A Couple of Keys

Going Green

A phrase that is used and manipulated by corporations everywhere nowadays in an attempt to attract consumers.  In regards to the basketball game being played on Saturday, I am referring to Alabama’s JaMychal Green.  Green has struggled with foul trouble all season.  He has fouled out of three games, and he has committed four fouls in eight other contests.  He is such a big part of Bama’s offense and defense that it would be very beneficial to the Dawgs if they could get him on the bench (or better yet, out of the game).

Jeremy Price needs to do a better job of making strong post moves, and getting Green up in the air.  In the Tennessee game, Price’s offensive attempts against Wayne Chism were too slow and deliberate.  He was unable to get Chism to commit fouls, and rather, Wayne usually just blocked Price’s shots.

Hopefully Thompkins and Price can attack the Alabama defense and get Green to pick up some early fouls.

Potentially Dangerous Situation

As we know by now, Georgia’s guard play has been somewhat of an Achilles heel for this team all season.  The match-up that Ware, McPhee, Leslie, EA and Vince Williams have against the Crimson Tide on Saturday does not look favorable for the Dawgs.  Alabama’s pressure-style of man defense coupled with their long bodies (Torrance at 6’5″ and Mitchell at 6’6″) could make it very difficult on Georgia’s undersized guards.  UGA is last in the SEC in turnovers at 16.5 a game!

How will the cookie crumble on Saturday?

Something’s Gotta Give

As mentioned earlier, Bama is locking down SEC opponents on defense, holding teams to 40.8% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range.

Georgia is currently second in the conference in both field goal and three-point percentage, at 47% and 38.2% respectively.  The Dawgs are shooting slightly better at home in SEC games, hitting 47.8% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST.

If you aren’t heading to Athens, the game can be seen on Comcast’s Peachtree TV (channel 7; HD channel 802).