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.

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.

 

 

 

Arkansas pressure too much for Georgia

In the first meeting between Arkansas and Georgia in Athens – a game which UGA won 67-61 – Michael Qualls scored just 3 points on a 1 for 10 shooting performance from the floor.

Unfortunately for the Dawgs, Qualls made amends for that game on Saturday inside Bud Walton Arena, where he scored 20 points to go along with 3 steals.  Throughout much of the game, Qualls served as the catalyst in the Hogs’ full-court press, which gave Georgia fits for much of the afternoon.

Arkansas turned UGA over 16 times in Fayetteville with Brandon Morris and Charles Mann leading the way with 7 and 6, respectively.  In Georgia’s press offense, Morris and Mann are usually the primary ball-handlers, so when they are coughing it up a combined 13 times to the other team things typically don’t pan out well for the Dawgs.

Despite all of the turnovers, Arkansas could not put Georgia away in the second half, seemingly leaving the door open for a UGA comeback.  After shooting nearly 60% from the floor before the break, Arky went cold in the second half, making just 40% of its field goal attempts and connecting on only 1 of 9 shots from beyond the arc.

The problem, though, was that UGA shot the ball worse, hitting less than 30% of its field goals following the intermission.  Aside from Kenny Gaines and Marcus Thornton, Georgia did not have much going on on the offensive end of the floor.  Gaines, who connected on 6 of 9 threes, scored a game-high 25 points, and Thornton chipped in 13 points to go along with 6 boards.

Charles Mann, who had as many turnovers as points, only scored 2 points in the second half, and he sat on the bench for the final stretch of the game after Coach Fox appeared tired of watching Mann’s carelessness.

Georgia did cut the Arkansas advantage to as low as 5 points after Kenny Gaines hit a pair of free throws to make it 65-60 with just 4:43 remaining.  But the Hogs responded immediately and in less than a minute the score was 70-60 after Rashad Madden connected on the team’s only three-pointer of the half.

UGA didn’t have another run in them, and the Hogs cruised to the 87-75 victory.

A disconcerting by-product of yesterday’s loss is that Georgia’s hold on third place in the SEC is now a lot less secure.  Both Arkansas and Tennessee are just one game behind the Dawgs in the standings with two games remaining on the conference slate, and these two teams would win any kind of two-way or three-way tie-breakers that might exist with UGA should their conference records end up the same.

Georgia has a winnable home game against Missy State on Tuesday, but then the Dawgs have to hit the road again for a difficult regular-season finale in Baton Rouge versus the LSU Tigers.

Arkansas and Tennessee’s final two games seem less daunting than Georgia’s since each team has a much easier road game this week.  The Hogs get Ole Miss at home before heading to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama (6-10).  The Vols travel to Auburn (5-11) before ending the season at home against Missouri.

Obviously anything is possible and there is still week of basketball to be played, but Georgia’s chances of reaching the finals of the SEC basketball tournament seem much more favorable as the 3-seed.  At the 3-seed, UGA could avoid Florida – the only team that truly seems unbeatable in this conference.

At the 3-seed, Georgia could potentially play in a winnable semifinal game against Kentucky, a team that is currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak and reeling from Saturday’s loss to SEC bottom-dweller South Carolina (4-12).

Georgia has two games left on the schedule, and the only way to ensure a 3-seed in the conference tournament is to win both of them.

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?

Hogs coming to Athens to take on Dawgs

Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs (9-10 overall, 1-5 in the SEC) need an SEC win in the worst way.  After losing two straight and 5 of their first 6 conference games, the Dawgs need to build a little momentum before heading into Saturday’s game with #18 Vanderbilt.

Nothing like a trip back home to  shake off the cobwebs and get a couple wins.

Arkansas (10-11 overall, 3-3 in the SEC) comes into Athens riding a two-game winning streak, including an 80-73  win at Ole Miss last Sunday (their first road win of the season in four tries).

Don’t read to far into the Razorbacks’ losing record – they played the first 14 games of the season without sophomore starting point guard and leading-scorer Courtney Fortson.  Arkansas suspended Fortson indefinitely following his infamous tweet that poked lightly at an alleged rape that occurred on campus at an Arkansas fraternity.  Fortson was not involved in the incident, but was punished for his crass comment,  “Im gettin it at workouts like a dude who doesnt understand the word no from a drunk girl lol.”

Fortson had to learn the hard way that it’s probably not a good idea to make comedic observations about certain kinds of felonies.

But he is back now, and is averaging 18.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 34 minutes per game.  It is safe to say that if Fortson did not own and use a Twitter account, the Razorbacks might have won games against Morgan State, East Tennessee State and South Alabama back in 2009.

The Hogs run a 3-guard attack that enables them to get out in the open court and run, run, run.  They will play a fast-paced game with a lot of full-court pressure, similar to the Nolan Richarson team’s that were known for their “40 Minutes of Hell” basketball.

Complimenting Fortson in the backcourt is sophomore guard Rotnei Clarke.  Clarke is netting 17.4 points a game in nearly 36 minutes, and he is shooting a blistering 47.7% from 3PT range.

The good news for Georgia is that Clarke is the only real threat that the Razorbacks have from beyond the arc.  As a team, Arkansas is shooting an icy 32.5% on 3-pointers in SEC games.  The Hogs’ field goal picture isn’t much prettier, as they are hitting only 40.4% in conference play.

Junior guard Marcus Britt rounds out the Razorback backcourt.  Britt is the starter, but senior Stefan Welsh and freshman Julysses Nobles play nearly as many minutes – all three are averaging just under 22 minutes a night.  Welsh and Nobles average 6.4 and 4.3 points per game, respectively.

Anchoring the frontcourt is senior center Michael Washington (6’9″) and freshman forward Marshawn Powell (6’7″).  Washington averages 13.3 points/6.0 rebounds, and Powell gives the Razorbacks 15.3 points/6.8 rebounds.  Both of these bigs run the court pretty well.

Keys:

Get out the Windex, and clean up the glass

Georgia is second in SEC play this season in both rebounding margin (+5.7) and offensive rebounds per game (13.5).  This is largely attributed to the Dawgs having one of the widest frontcourts in the country to go along with a guard that jumps out of the gym (Travis Leslie  is snaring 8.8 boards a game in SEC play!).

Arkansas is not quite as active on the glass – the Hogs are second to last in the conference with 10.5 offensive boards a game, and dead-last in rebounding margin at -7.5 a game.  I suppose that’s the price you pay when you choose to go with a three-guard lineup.

Georgia’s bigs should dominate the boards against Arkansas.  I want to see at least two Georgia players bring down over 8 rebounds apiece, and  I am expecting to see the Dawgs light-up the stat sheet line under “Second Chance Points”.

Please Protect the Ball

Georgia is averaging 15.3 turnovers a game, which ranks them at 259th in the country in this lovely category.  This means that the Dawgs’ opponents are taking more field goal attempts each game, giving them more scoring opportunities (UGA averages 53 FG attempts a game; opponents are averaging 57).    The only thing keeping Georgia close in FG attempts per game is that they offensive rebound so well.  The Dawgs are not talented or deep enough to be giving opposing teams five to six extra possessions every game (in SEC play, UGA is last in the conference with a -5.67 turnover margin).  Moving forward, every player on the Dawgs’ roster has to focus on taking care of the basketball.

More 3’s Please

Before the Tennessee game, I called on Trey Thompkins to start looking for more shots from behind the arc (he went 3-4 in that game).  Since then, Georgia has knocked down 21 of its 39 three-point attempts (that’s 53.8% for all of you without calculators).  The Dawgs are actually leading the conference in 3PT% in SEC play this season, shooting 42% as a team.  The problem is that Georgia ranks last in the conference in 3-point attempts with only 81.  Nine teams in the SEC have over 110 three-point attempts in conference play this season.  Georgia is shooting the long ball well, so let’s see them shoot it more!  In SEC games, Thompkins and McPhee are hitting 61.5% and 42.9% from three-point range, respectively.

Highway to the 2-3 Zone

Sorry for the “Top Gun” reference, I couldn’t resist.  Just as I hope Coach Mark Fox won’t be able to resist putting his team in a 2-3 zone against the Hogs.  As I mentioned, Arkansas does not shoot it well from the floor (only 40.4% on FG).  Georgia has a distinct size advantage on the inside.

Poor shooting opponent + UGA size advantage = 2-3 zone for the Dawgs.  UGA should pack it in and dare the Hogs to try to score from the outside.  Plus, this will make it all the more difficult for Arkansas’s guards to score on penetration since Ajax or Trey will be waiting on them.

The game tips off at 7:00PM and will be televised on CSS.

The Dawgs need this one bad…