Georgia basketball wins another important game away from Stegeman

Just moments before the kickoff of yesterday’s SEC Championship game, Rayshaun Hammonds grabbed a rebound off a miss by Marquette’s Markus Howard, and then he calmly sunk a pair of free throws to secure a quality road win (73-66) for the Bulldogs in their victory over the Marquette Golden Eagles (5-3).

I should probably mentioned that William “Turtle” Jackson made 4 straight from the charity stripe prior to the 2 by Hammonds, and Turtle’s were incredibly important because Howard did connect on a three with 33 ticks left to make it a one-possession game at 69-66, Georgia.

The Dawgs won the game, in my opinion, during the following two stretches:

  1. After building up a comfortable 23-15 lead with just over 6 minutes left in the half, Georgia appeared to have taken control of the game and poised to go into the locker room with a sizable advantage.  Marquette started to get hot, though, and went on a 13-4 run that included three-pointers from Howard and Andrew Rowsey, whose shot put the Eagles up 28-27 with 1:03 left before the break.  Rowsey hit another triple to give Marquette a 31-28 advantage with 19 seconds remaining.  The Dawgs, however, immediately seized the momentum back on the following possession when Teshaun Hightower awkwardly dumped the ball off to Nicolas Claxton who quickly buried a three-pointer from the top of the key as time expired to lock the game up at 31 apiece heading into the intermission.
  2. Late in the second half, Georgia took a commanding 43-36 lead following the most powerful dunk that Mike Edwards has most likely ever done.  The Dawgs looked as though they had taken control of the game, but once again, Marquette responded, this time with a 12-4 run that was capped off by another Rowsey three that put his team up 48-47 with under 10 minutes remaining.  But UGA wouldn’t wither, and Yante Maten, who led his team with 13 points, hit an enormous jumper from the corner to put the Dawgs up 56-55 with 5:03 left. Hammonds scored on the ensuing possession on a dish from Derek Ogbeide, and a minute later Hightower hit a pair of free throws, and again UGA had wrestled back the momentum as they were now up 60-55 with 3:09 remaining.

Another big factor in this UGA victory was the Dawgs’ defensive intensity, which obviously must have been a point of emphasis from the coaching staff following Georgia’s win against Saint Mary’s, a game that featured zero defense.  The Dawgs held Marquette to just 35% from the floor and limited the Golden Eagles, who entered the game hitting over 38% of their 3PT attempts, to 33% from beyond the arc.  The Georgia guards frustrated the Big East’s leading scorer, Andrew Rowsey, into a 4 for 15 shooting effort, which led to 15 points, well below his season average (23.7ppg).

The only chink the Bulldogs defensive armor was that they couldn’t managed to contain Markus Howard, who spent half of this contest on the bench dealing with foul trouble.  Howard picked up two quick fouls to start the game and sat for the next 13 minutes before entering with a little over 6 minutes remaining in the half, only to pick his 3rd foul.  The effect: Howard had to sit for the first 7 minutes of the second half.  When Howard was in the game, though, he was highly productive as he scored a game-high 29 points in just 20 minutes of play.  The most disconcerting thing about Howard’s performance for Georgia had to be how easily he got the ball into the lane and to the rim, similarly to Saint Mary’s point guard, Emmett Naar, who dropped 21 points on the Dawgs in Fullerton, California.  So far this season, UGA’s backcourt has struggled to keep better point guards from punishing them in the lane, and that could be a problem once the Dawgs hit conference play because there are a number of good PGs in the SEC.

Other than Maten, the only other UGA player to finish in double-digits was Turtle, who scored 11 points to go along with 7 assists.  Tyree Crump ended up with 9 points on a 3 for 6 shooting effort from beyond the arc, and he may have wound up in double-figures, but he only played 10 minutes.  At some point Fox may have to consider inserting Crump into the starting five as he and Turtle are by far the Dawgs’ most dangerous three-point threats.  Their presence on the court gives Maten, who is going to be double-teamed all season it appears, viable outlets on the perimeter.

This game wasn’t a thing of beauty by any means; neither team had a field goal for almost 4 minutes to begin the second half.  But Mark Fox’s team once again got it done away from Athens against a team that may be dancing in March.  After a series of meaningless cupcake games at home to start the season, Georgia is slowly putting together a nice little NCAA Tournament resume.

 

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San Diego State knocks Georgia out of Wooden Legacy winner’s bracket

The Georgia Bulldogs (4-1) took their first loss of the season in the second round of the Wooden Legacy as they fell 75-68 to the San Diego State Aztecs (5-1).  Prior to the game it was reported that five to six Dawgs had suffered from food poisoning, and backup center Mike Edwards was so unwell that he remained at the team’s hotel.  How big a factor UGA’s intestinal issues played in this one, we’ll never know. Georgia did get its first taste of legitimate competition for the year, and here are some observations:

Purposeless offense

One of the knocks against Coach Mark Fox during his 9 year tenure at Georgia has been the rigidity of his offensive sets.  Despite having what he deemed before the start of the season as his best team yet, it appears that the Dawgs may once again be handicapped by an offensive system that tends to stifle pace and creativity.  Georgia’s had two point guards over the past decade – Gerald Robinson, Jr. and J.J. Frazier – that were so gifted at getting the ball to the rim that even Fox’s “triangle offense” couldn’t contain them.  Not surprisingly, both of UGA’s trips to the NCAA tournament during Fox’s time at the helm came in years when these young men were donning the Red and Black.

This season, Georgia doesn’t have an explosive point guard, and the offense, especially last night, looks lost.  Against SDSU, a typical UGA possession ran like this: dribble or pass the ball around the perimeter for 24 seconds before someone hurried to get an off-balanced shot up.  The strength of this Bulldog team lies in its formidable frontcourt, yet the Dawgs only scored 18 points in the paint (to the Aztecs 34).  I can recall on one hand possessions in which the ball was actually passed to a Georgia big on the block.  The Dawgs had just 2 fast break points, which came on a bucket from Teshaun Hightower that tied the game at 53 with a little over 9 minutes left.

Yante Maten had 17 points, but it came at the expense of a 4 for 15 shooting effort and 5 turnovers.  Life is going to increasingly difficult for Maten on the block because he’s going to continue to see the convergence on him by opposing defenses, but they will just be bigger and more athletic.

The lone bright spot thus far regarding the Dawgs’ trip to California has to be the emergence of Turtle Jackson as a scoring threat.  Turtle scored 17 points against SDSU, once again breaking a career high in points from the previous game.  Maybe even more important is the fact that Jackson hit 4 three-pointers, and he’s now established himself as the Dawgs most consistent shooter from the perimeter, where he’s making nearly 43% of his attempts on the year.  Fox is going to need to adjust his offense to include more sets in which Maten and Jackson are on the same side so that they can play some inside/out as well as some screen and roll.

As a team, Georgia shot just 38% against the Aztecs, and no other players finished in double-figures.

Defensive lapses

UGA played its best basketball of the season to start this contest.  For the first 8 minutes, the Dawgs’ defense forced SDSU into a number of quick shots, and the Aztecs began the game just 2 of 14 from the floor, which enabled Georgia to jump out to a 16-4 lead with 12:05 left in the first half.

Even though SDSU lost its leading scorer Malik Pope for over 15 minutes prior to the intermission due to foul trouble, the Dawgs were unable to maintain the intensity on the defensive side of the ball.  The Aztec guards consistently got into the lane against Georgia’s backcourt, which led to a number of easy buckets.  SDSU had a much easier time getting points in the paint than UGA, which is probably why they ended up with 34 of them.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs fell back into a lackadaisical mindset defensively during the final stretch of game: after taking a 64-63 advantage following a three by Turtle with 3:43 left, Georgia allowed the Aztecs to reel off 9 unanswered points and take a commanding 72-64 lead with only 1:42 remaining.

UGA failed to protect the defensive glass as they yielded 18 offensive rebounds to the Aztecs; SDSU turned those boards into 15 second-chance points.

Confusing substitution patterns by Fox

Another hallmark of the Mark Fox Era has been his proclivity to substitute his players in and out of games relentlessly, which has led some to question whether his guys are getting enough time on the court to either build chemistry with teammates or find some sort of offensive rhythm themselves.  Pape Diatta, who did not leave the bench on Thursday night, earned 12 minutes of playing time on Friday.  It’s been feast or famine this year for Diatta as he’s averaged nearly 10 minutes in three games and he’s failed to remove his warm up in the other two.

Freshman Teshaun Hightower, who in the first few games appeared poised to possibly ascend into the team’s reserve point guard role, also failed to log a minute against Cal State-Fullerton; however, he played 8 productive minutes against SDSU in which he scored 4 points, dished out 2 assists and grabbed 3 boards.

Both Hightower and fellow freshman, Nicolas Claxton, were on the floor during the final stretch of this one.  Claxton, who played maybe his best game yet (7 points, 7 boards, 3 blocks), was finally subbed out with 1:26 left for started Derek Ogbeide.

I’m no basketball expert, but typically coaches like to have their best five players, or the starters, on the court at the end of close games unless one or more of them is dealing with foul trouble, which wasn’t the case for Georgia on Friday.  Yet, Fox kept starters E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide on the bench with 4 minutes remaining and his team trailing 63-61.  If those two players are part of the five that Fox deems the best to start a game, wouldn’t it make sense to have them on the court when it counts?  Otherwise, why on earth are they starting (particularly Wilridge)?

I realize that I have only questions and no answers here, but the manner in which Fox manages his lineups continues to confound me.

Georgia returns to action Sunday when they take on #21 Saint Mary’s in the tournament’s third place game.

Reviewing Georgia’s 60-43 win over rival Georgia Tech

Last night’s contest between the Georgia Bulldogs (8-3) and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-4) left the rims inside McCamish Pavillion bruised and battered.  The fans that came to watch offense on Tuesday evening definitely left the arena sorely disappointed.  Neither team shot above 38% from the floor, and Tech hit only 1 for 10 from beyond the arc, compared to UGA’s 3 for 18 effort.  Georgia Tech managed just 43 points, its lowest output since being held to 41 by Clemson back in 2014.

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Why Georgia couldn’t score

The Jackets ran an extended 1-3-1 zone for much of the night in an effort to limit Yante Maten’s looks inside, and to their credit, it worked.  Maten had very few opportunities where he received the ball on the block close to the bucket, and even when he did, he was immediately surrounded by multiple Tech defenders.  Maten finished the night as the game’s leading scorer with 16 points, but they were hard-earned and came at the expense of a  5 for 12 shooting effort.

J.J. Frazier scored 15 points, but it certainly wasn’t one of his better games as a Bulldog.  He once again struggled with his shot, making only 1 of his 6 attempts from the perimeter.  Frazier also dished out 4 turnovers to just 2 assists.  However, he was the only UGA point guard that seemed capable of attacking Tech’s zone and drawing multiple defenders so that his teammates could get open.  Turtle Jackson, who thankfully only played 12 minutes, did the opposite as he got rid of the ball as soon as he could once it crossed half court.  Not that UGA’s offense was clicking on all cylinders last night by any means, but it went into downright stall out mode when Turtle took the helm so that J.J. could rest.

Something tells me more teams might start defending Georgia in this manner moving forward.

Why Tech couldn’t score

Coach Mark Fox employed a man defense for most of the game, which made sense considering UGA had the more talented roster.  I cannot say that I have seen a lot of Tech basketball this year, but offensively, there is not a lot there.  The Jackets’ leading scorer, Ben Lammers, was the only Tech player to end up in double-figures as he scored 10 points on a 4 for 10 night from the floor.  Lammers also had 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, which earned him “Player of the Game” honors according to the giant replay screen above center court.  Considering his team got trounced and he had just the 4th highest point total of the night, I hope that Lammers doesn’t take much solace in that meaningless award.

Tech’s other senior big, Quinton Stephens, was determined to show the world that he can in fact create his own shot off the dribble.  However, the basketball gods inside McCamish had other ideas as Stephens missed all 9 of his attempts from the floor and turned the ball over 4 times.

UGA out rebounded the Jackets by a tally of 40-31, and even more importantly, they limited Tech to only 2 second chance points.  Considering how poorly the Jackets shot it on Tuesday, Georgia’s defensive rebounding might have been the difference in this game as they permitted Tech to grab just 5 offensive boards.

Critical moment of the game #1

The first came with 7:45 remaining before the break and the Dawgs leading 19-10, following an old-fashioned three-point play by Yante Maten.  Georgia had wrestled control of this contest from the Jackets, and they appeared poised to deliver a knockout blow to the home team going into the half.  However, instead of keeping his foot on the pedal, Mark Fox opted to pump the breaks, taking Maten out 17 seconds later and then removing Frazier a minute after that.  The result: Tech went on a 6-0 run and after a pair of free throws by Josh Okogie the Jackets only trailed the Dawgs 19-16.  Georgia ended up taking a 27-18 advantage into the intermission, but it felt like they should have been up by 15 or more.

Critical moment of the game #2

With 15:22 left and UGA up 34-24, Georgia Tech decided to extend a media timeout for a planned on-court celebration of its Governor’s Cup trophy that the football team earned in Athens back in November.  I have no idea why this celebration didn’t occur at some point during halftime since the game operations people obviously knew that the football players were going to take the floor.  Apparently this commemoration did not sit well with Coach Fox’s team as they outscored Tech 13-8 over the next 8 minutes, extending the Georgia lead to 47-32, and putting this contest out of reach for Josh Pastner’s bunch.

While this game was not a thing of beauty, all and all, it was a huge win for the Dawgs.  Georgia secured the non-conference win over a Power 5 opponent that it desperately needed, and this victory came on the road, which was an added bonus.  Another thing Coach Fox’s team did was avoid a potential “bad loss” to a Tech team that currently has an RPI of 169 and no prospects of moving that number below the century mark any time soon.

 

 

Welcome back Georgia basketball

The Georgia Bulldogs returned to the hard courts for the first time since galavanting this summer throughout Spain, where UGA won all of its exhibitions.  In tonight’s exhibition game, the Dawgs played host to the Fort Valley State Wildcats, a team hailing from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC).

The Wildcats were undersized and overmatched, and the Dawgs dismantled them inside Stegeman by a count of 94-38.  Even though this game meant nothing in regards to the win-loss column, Mark Fox’s team definitely showed up with a sense of purpose defensively, holding Fort Valley to under 25% from the field.  UGA subbed at an incredible rate, even for Fox, yet for the most part everyone who came in entered the game prepared to work on the defensive end.  The Wildcats had managed just 2 points after nearly ten minutes of game time had eclipsed.

Offensively, Georgia was led by Yante Maten, who looked like a man among boys on Thursday.  Maten scored a game-high 19 points on an array of hooks and dunks, and he even added a three.  After being selected to the preseason All-SEC Second Team, Maten certainly appears poised for a big junior season.

UGA’s other star, senior J.J. Frazier, who was a All-SEC First Team selection, scored only 9 points.  However, Frazier played sparingly, and he did have a nice stretch in the second half when he buried a series of three-pointers.

Both Maten and Frazier are two of Georgia’s known commodities, though.  Tonight, fans headed to Stegeman to see some of the new Bulldog players as well as some of last year’s returning sophomores.  The biggest surprise on the night had to be the play of freshman guard Tyree Crump, who comes from the same hometown as Kirby Smart: Bainbridge, Georgia.  The rumors circling around Crump after the trip to Spain were that he could get hot from the perimeter, and the freshman did not disappoint on Thursday.  Crump actually missed his first two attempts from beyond the arc, prompting Fox to sub him out. However, before a stoppage of play could occur, Crump knocked down a pair of three’s to get himself in the scoring column.  He hit two more three-pointers in the second half, and Crump also scored on a nice drive off the dribble.  Kenny Paul Geno and Juwan Parker may have started this game, but do not be surprised if Crump doesn’t play himself into one of the starting spots as the season progresses.

But in the end, it’s important to remember that tonight’s game was merely a surface-level look into this year’s UGA basketball team.  The Dawgs played a ton of guys, and their opponent resembled nothing of what the competition will look like next Friday when Georgia opens at Clemson.  Coach Fox does have two bonafide stars at his disposal in Frazier and Maten, though, and he appears to have a deeper bench than in years past.

Georgia beats South Carolina again to improve to 9-8 in SEC

With the Dawgs clinging to a 66-63 lead and under 90 seconds remaining, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier crossed half court and sunk a three-pointer from well outside the arc, sending Georgia up 69-63 with 1:14 left.  This shot took the life out of Colonial Life Arena, and UGA went on to win 74-72 on South Carolina’s court.

Georgia was fortunate to even be in a position to win this game down the stretch considering that Coach Fox’s team turned the ball over 19 times tonight.  The Dawgs’ passing was atrocious, particularly their entry looks.  Yet even when the Gamecocks reclaimed the lead down the stretch, and then bolstered it to 61-57 with a little over 4 minutes remaining following a jumper by Sindarious Thornwell, UGA stood its ground.

Coach Mark Fox and his staff deserve a lot of credit for how they game planned to defend the Cocks in this one.  For much of the night, UGA sat in a zone, daring the Carolina, who entered the game as 3rd worst in the SEC in three-point shooting in conference games, to beat them from the outside.  South Carolina, for its part, obliged, making only 9 of its 26 three-point attempts.  Carolina’s leading scorer, Michael Carrera, struggled mightily, mustering 13 points on a 5 for 21 shooting performance (which included him going just 1 of 10 from beyond the arc).

Georgia was led offensively by Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier, who scored 20 and 19, respectively.  Gaines netted 14 of his 20 in the first half, while J.J. got 12 of his 19 after the intermission.  Neither of them shot the ball particularly well in Columbia as they combined to make only 11 of 34 attempts.  Frazier, though, found other ways to contribute, securing 9 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists as he nearly messed around and got a triple-double.

Georgia’s only other player to finish in double-digits was Yante Maten, who chipped in 13 points and 7 rebounds.

This victory marks just the third time this season that UGA has won on the road, and it completes the series sweep of Frank Martin’s USC team.

The Dawgs are now 16-12 overall and 9-8 in the SEC, and Georgia is 4-11 against the RPI Top 100 on the year.  UGA is currently in 7th place in the league, but if Georgia can hold serve at home on Saturday against Alabama, the Dawgs could finish as high as 5th in the conference should South Carolina and Ole Miss stumble in their respective road games this weekend.

 

Vanderbilt shuts Georgia down in Nashville

The loss to Florida was bad, but if they could just win the next five games they’d still have a chance to make a push for the NCAA tournament.

This is what I told myself as I made the five and a half hour drive from Athens to Nashville on Friday night.

That wishful thinking was crushed early in Memorial Gym on Saturday, as Georgia fell behind quickly and stayed behind, losing 80-67 to the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Georgia put up another offensive dud today, shooting only 38% from the floor en route to a 67-point performance.  J.J. Frazier (21) and Yante Maten (19) combined for nearly 60% of their team’s output, while the rest of the supporting cast was nowhere to be found.  Kenny Gaines managed only 5 points on a 2 for 10 shooting effort, making it the 4th time in the last 5 games that he has failed to finish in double-figures.

The Dawgs’ offense is becoming increasingly stagnant as the season progresses.  In the early Mark Fox UGA years, Georgia scored regularly on both cuts down the lane and backdoor cuts set up by off-ball screens.  Today, Fox’s team looked completely one-dimensional, relying heavily on pick and rolls, which Vanderbilt eventually got very comfortable defending. The result: UGA scored one point more than its SEC game average of 66 points.

Get this: in conference games, the Dawgs are now averaging the least amount of points per contest in the league.  Team assists, which were once a staple of Mark Fox’s teams, are now hard to come by as UGA is dishing out only 11 per game, ranking them 11th in league in the category in SEC play.  The numbers don’t lie, and at this point, I think it’s safe to say that Fox does not have the talent that he had when he first came on board in Athens.

Georgia has dropped 3 of its last 4 games, and not surprisingly, it has shot under 40% in all three losses.  The Dawgs have become incredibly easy to guard, especially when Yante Maten is not on the floor. Even when Yante is in the game, UGA at most has 3 viable scoring threats, assuming J.J. and Gaines are playing, and that’s just not going to cut it against decent teams.

Georgia’s defense wasn’t much better, though, as they allowed all five Vanderbilt starters to finish in double-figures.  The Dores were led by Wade Baldwin IV’s 17 points as well as Damian Jones, who netted a double-double, scoring 15 to go along with his game -high 16 boards (I should mention that Maten too had a double-double).  On numerous occasions the Vandy guards made passes to wide open bigs, resulting in a string of uncontested dunks.  The Dores shot nearly 46% from the floor, which is a point higher than their SEC game average.

The Dawgs are now 11-0 against teams ranked outside of the RPI Top 100, and 3-11 when playing teams inside it.  Georgia is 2-7 on the road this year, which is bad news considering that they travel to The Plains on Wednesday for a rematch with Auburn.  Today’s loss put UGA one step closer to playing on Thursday of this year’s SEC tournament; losing to the Tigers next week would almost assure it.

 

Florida wins in Athens, sweeping Georgia on the year

Kenny Gaines, who had knocked down three-pointers on consecutive possessions, couldn’t make it three in a row for the Dawgs, which would have tied the game at 56 apiece with less than 10 seconds remaining. Instead, Gaines’s attempt fell short, and so did Georgia’s comeback, giving Florida the 58-54 road win in Athens, along with a season sweep of Coach Mark Fox’s team.

At this point, any discussions of UGA (14-10) earning an at-large bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament are pure fantasy as Georgia is now a dismal 3-10 against the RPI Top 100.

Neither team shot the ball well tonight, but the difference was that Florida made a much higher percentage of its attempts in the second half.  Even though the Dawgs took a 25-19 advantage into the intermission, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy as Florida was just 1 of 17 from beyond the arc in the game’s first twenty minutes; surely, at some point, the Gators would find their range, which they did following the break, knocking down 50% of their shots from both the field and three-point land.

UGA, however, hit just 32% from the floor on the night, making exactly 10 of 31 attempts in each half.  The Dawgs’ offense hit a wall during the game’s final 7 minutes, just after UGA had taken a 44-41 lead following a nice finish by Yante Maten on the break.  Georgia would score only one field goal over the next 6 minutes, which is why Coach Fox’s team found themselves in the predicament that they were in, trailing Florida 52-47 with less than a minute left.

The Gators, who pressured UGA relentlessly when the two teams met in Gainesville earlier this year, seemed content to play a half court game, which obviously worked in Georgia’s favor.  Without having to face the ragged Gator press, the Dawgs managed to turn the ball over just 10 times on the night.

Florida was led offensively by KeVaughn Allen, who scored a game-high 19 points, including 4 three-pointers – 3 of which came in the second half.

Kenny Gaines, Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier scored 12, 11 and 10 points for UGA, respectively; though, none of them had much success in the shooting department.  Gaines was 4 for 11, Frazier 4 for 10, and Maten hit only 4 of his 17 attempts.

The Dawgs are 1-7 this season against the RPI Top 50 for a reason: they don’t have enough players to to compete with high-level teams for 40 minutes.  Georgia has two outside shooting threats and one legitimate post player, which is just not enough to be successful against strong competition.  If one of those guys gets in foul trouble or is having an off night, UGA is essentially playing 4 on 5 when it has the ball.

Anyone know what the NIT bubble is looking like these days?