Georgia travels to Nashville in search of first conference win

Vanderbilt’s starting five features three players – John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli – who are projected to be taken in the 2012 NBA draft.  Georgia, shockingly, doesn’t have any players named on that list.

The Commodores have gotten out to a 2-0 conference start, mirroring the Dawgs 0-2 SEC record.

UGA hasn’t won at Memorial Gym in six years, and the Bulldogs sport an ugly 11-46 all-time record against the Dores in Nashville.

Needless to say there isn’t a lot of mojo moving in favor of the Dawgs heading into Saturday’s contest.

However, Vanderbilt’s season has not been without its mishaps – the Dores have dropped 4 games (though they’ve won 12), including losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State.  Despite the fact that Las Vegas currently has Georgia slated as a 14-point underdog in this one there is an opportunity for Georgia to keep the game close.

The Bulldogs chances of staying competitive in Saturday’s game depend heavily on their ability to defend – more specifically, their ability to defend junior guard John Jenkins.  Jenkins has been sensational so far this year, scoring just under 20 points per game and shooting a blistering 46.2% from beyond the arc.  He has only hit below 30% from the three-point line in two games this season – Cleveland State and Indiana State.  In both of those losses the opposing teams used a relentless defender to hound Jenkins for the entire game, limiting his open looks.  Should Coach Mark Fox employ a similar strategy against Vandy I imagine that Kentavious-Caldwell Pope would be the player he deploys to guard Jenkins, since he similar in stature.

On the inside, Georgia will have to contend with supremely athletic wing Jeffery Taylor and powerful big man Festus Ezeli.  Taylor is second on the team in scoring with 17 ppg to go along with 5.4 rpg.

Ezeli, who was suspended for the first 6 games of the season, brutalized the Georgia bigs last season, averaging 14 points and 11 boards in his two games against the Dawgs.  Considering that Festus had his way with comparably sized opponents like Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes last year, I fear what he may do to this season’s crop of slim UGA forwards.

If Georgia hopes to contain some of Vandy’s firepower, then they are really going to have to clean up their defensive act fast.  Through two conference games the Bulldogs are yielding 72 points per contest and they are allowing opposing teams to make nearly 53% of their field goal attempts, which is second-to-last in the SEC.

The only Georgia player who has been consistent in both of the conference games has been freshman Nemanja Djurisci.  Nemi (or the Menace of Montenegro) is netting 12 points and hauling down 5.5 boards per SEC game, and he appears to be the only UGA big that is not afraid to take the ball to the basket against opposing defenders.

Will Georgia drop its 7th straight game in Nashville and fall to 0-3 in conference play?  Or, will the Dawgs show up with some intensity, put up a fight and possibly shock Coach Kevin Stallings’ team?

Vanderbilt Stops Georgia’s Streak at Nine

All good things must come to an end, and last night, it was the Georgia Bulldogs‘ (12-3; 1-1) nine-game winning streak.

The Vanderbilt Commodores (12-3; 1-1) played an excellent game both defensively and offensively en route to a 73-66 win over the Dawgs.

Georgia looked out-of-sync from the start, and for the most part the Dawgs never found their rhythm on offense.  Vandy jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead to open the game, a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish (Georgia was never able to tie the game).

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings had a sound game plan on defense, frequently changing from zone to man-to-man.  The result: Georgia struggled to get the ball inside, and they were forced to take a lot of three-point shots (not a forte of this Dawgs team).

The Commodores defended Georgia’s Trey Thompkins perfectly, making it very difficult for him to receive the ball on the block.  When Trey did get the ball inside, he was consistently met with a double-team – probably a reason why he finished with just 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the field (Thompkins only scored 4 points in the game’s second half).

As I already mentioned, the Dawgs settled for WAY too many three-point attempts, connecting on just 5 of 21.  Coming into the game, Georgia was only shooting 13 three-pointers per contest – which is probably for the best since the Dawgs are barely over 30% as a team from beyond the arc.  Hoisting up 20+ shots from three-point range could not have been in Coach Mark Fox’s pregame plan, and kudos to the Commodores for forcing Georgia out of their offense.

Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli was unstoppable in the paint, feasting on Georgia bigs Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes.  Ezeli seemed to score every time he touched the ball inside, finishing the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds.  He fouled out Jeremy Price and drew 4 fouls on Chris Barnes, with the two bigs combining for just 2 points, 3 rebounds and 9 personal fouls.

The lone bright spots for the Dawgs in Wednesday night’s loss had to be Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Travis Leslie.  Robinson, a native of Tennessee, opened the game with 3 three-point field goals.  In the second half, GR2 was sensational off the dribble, scoring on a plethora of lay-ups and keeping Georgia in the game – he finished with 20 points in what was maybe his best offensive effort this season.  Robinson connected on 2 free throws to cut the Vandy lead to 56-53 with 10:34 left, but this was as close as Georgia would get.

Travis Leslie put in another solid effort, leading the Dawgs with 21 points, 13 rebounds (10 of which came on the offensive glass) and 5 assists.  He did a nice job of moving without the ball and getting himself in good positions to convert field goals.

One point of concern for Georgia in last night’s game was the fact that Thompkins, Robinson and Leslie scored 54 of the team’s 66 total points (or 82% of the offense).  The Dawgs are averaging 70 points per game as a team this year, with those three netting a combined 45.4 (or 65%).  If Georgia is going to be successful on the road moving forward, Coach Fox has to get more from his “role players”.  Dustin Ware, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes combined for just 5 total points.

I would like to highlight the play of Georgia freshman Donte Williams, who did give Coach Fox some good minutes off the bench.  Williams knocked down a jump-shot from the wing, and he made two nice assists to a slashing Travis Leslie.

This was Georgia’s ninth-straight SEC road loss under Coach Fox.  Honestly though, I didn’t have a very good feeling going into this game.  Georgia was coming off of a huge win (Kentucky), and Vandy was dealing with a tough loss (South Carolina).  For whatever reason, Georgia seems to always struggle at Vanderbilt, and last night was no different.

Not to mention that Vanderbilt has a very good team, and they should wind up representing the Southeastern conference in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  Sophomore John Jenkins (18 points) and junior Jeffrey Taylor (15 points) are both All-SEC caliber players, and Georgia will need to find a way to slow these guys down when they see them later this season in Athens.

Georgia has a short turnaround before playing another SEC road game this Saturday at Mississippi.