Some thoughts on Kentucky’s 69-49 rout of Georgia

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-7, 1-3) do not start many games off with 5 consecutive dunks. If someone had only watched the initial 5 minutes of this game and seen how the Dawgs built up their 11-6 lead over Kentucky, it would be hard to convince that individual that UGA would end up losing the game by 20 points. Georgia competed with the #12 Cats for 20 minutes, but then the magic ran out. Below are some of my thoughts:

Brutal second half for Georgia

The last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half are largely thought to be the two most important segments of a basketball game. The Dawgs excelled in the former, but they got totally Ashton Hagans-ized in the latter. The freshman, who scored a career-high 23 points, lit Georgia up out of the intermission as he scored 7 quick points and helped bolster the Cats’ 4-point lead to 42-31.

The Dawgs began the second half offensively by missing their first 5 shots and committing 3 turnovers. UGA didn’t notch a field goal until Rayshaun Hammonds got a tip-in with 14:35 remaining in the game. Georgia shot just 19% from the floor in the second half, and they made only 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.

Confusing offensive identity

As mentioned, the Dawgs jumped on Kentucky early and exploited some rather poor defensive rotations by Coach Calipari’s team to the tune of five two-handed dunks. Georgia scored 18 of its 31 points in the paint prior to the break, then the Dawgs scored just 18 points the entire second half. Despite making only 2 of 13 three-point attempts through the first 20 minutes, Georgia kept chucking them up after the intermission and finished the game just 4 of 27 from the perimeter. All of this was confounding considering how easily UGA was getting the ball into the teeth of the Kentucky defense early on; it definitely felt like the Dawgs sort of let the Cats off the hook defensively.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love Tom Crean’s commitment to shoot more three-pointers. That’s where the game has gone. Good teams get points consistently from beyond the arc, and it’s far past time that UGA join this fad. However, it’s just tough to watch right now because the Dawgs don’t have that many legitimate perimeter shooters.

Lack of star power for UGA

Georgia held Kentucky’s leading scorer Keldon Johnson, who nets nearly 16 points a night, in check in this one as he put up a goose egg. Unfortunately, UGA’s leading scorer, Rayshaun Hammonds, had another tough night; the sophomore went into the half with 0 points and 2 fouls after nearly 12 minutes of game time. Hammonds would finish with 11 points, but he never asserted himself into this game on the offensive side of the ball. Rayshaun’s struggles against ranked competition continued against #12 Kentucky, and he’s now averaging only 6.7 ppg in the three contests versus ranked SEC opponents.

Nic Claxton, who notched 9 points prior to the break, would net only 3 more the rest of the way. The Dawgs need more than 23 total points out of their leading scorers if they are going to pull an upset on a team of Kentucky’s calibre.

Coach Calipari had others on his team, namely Hagans, step up and shoulder the scoring load. Kentucky’s freshman point guard looks the part of a bona fide stud on both offense and defense, and he certainly got the last laugh inside Stegeman tonight after receiving a decent amount of heckling from the UGA student section.

Stats that jump off the box score:

  1. Kentucky had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 22.
  2. Kentucky had 43 rebounds to Georgia’s 35.
  3. Kentucky had 14 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 4.

Kentucky eliminates Georgia from the SEC Tournament (again)

Kentucky’s 62-49 win over Georgia (18-15) marked the 4th time in 5 years that Big Blue Nation has eliminated UGA from the SEC tournament.  Every one of those losses have prevented Georgia from earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  If an SEC team is on the bubble this time of year in March, a win over the Cats is an easy way to impress the committee. Unfortunately, Coach Mark Fox hasn’t found a way to get that done.  His Georgia teams have never beaten Kentucky away from Athens.  Coach Calipari is the proverbial hump that Fox just cannot seem to get over.

Is this a great Kentucky team that is destined to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? No.  They only have two players that would be considered dangerous scoring threats: Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  They don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the outside (under 35% on triples). However, they are long and athletic, and yesterday, the Cats were determined to play defense for 40 minutes, which turned out to be more than UGA could handle.

Kentucky’s match-up zone gave Georgia fits.  The Cats’ guards enforced their will upon the UGA backcourt, which resulted in Georgia having trouble getting into its sets since the offense was starting so far from the basket. The Dawgs struggled to get the ball inside to their bigs. Even when Yante Maten got touches, he was indecisive with the ball and allowed himself to be swarmed by Wildcat defenders.  Yante was held under double-figures in scoring for just the second time this season as he managed only 9 points in the loss yesterday on a 2 of 10 shooting performance.  Coach Calipari’s defensive scheme of taking away Maten worked so well that it didn’t even matter that his team couldn’t muster much on the offensive end.  UGA shot 28% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc; the Dawgs chunked up 23 three-point attempts, which is not a good look for this Georgia team.  UGA scored just 12 points in the paint to Kentucky’s 38; the Dawgs couldn’t find success on the block, so they settled for a multitude of perimeter shots. Game over.

The lone bright spot on offense for UGA was Tyree Crump, who snapped out of his recent shooting funk and knocked down 4 of his 8 three-point attempts en route to a career high 17 points.  The other Georgia guards were far less effective: Turtle Jackson (2 for 12), Teshaun Hightower (0 for 6).  If the UGA backcourt could have managed to knock down a few more three’s, it might have forced the Kentucky defense to pay less attention to Maten, but that’s been a running theme for the season.

Ultimately, Georgia is just not built to deal with a team of Kentucky’s caliber.  This UGA team showed a lot of fight the past two days, especially in the second round upset of Missouri, but once again the Dawgs were no match for a more athletic bunch of Wildcats.  UGA’s freshman simply do not resemble Kentucky’s; the Cats’ newbies are at a whole different level.  As long as Calipari reigns supreme in Lexington, Georgia is not going to be able to match up with his teams’ athleticism. The only way UGA ever starts beating Kentucky is if they can get more shooters on the roster, because that is and always has been the great equalizer in college basketball. For some reason, though, the UGA basketball program cannot seem to figure that out.

UGA leads Kentucky in the second half (again) only to fall 66-61

Even though Georgia led Kentucky for nearly 60% of the game, the whole time I kept waiting for that Kentucky run.  I knew it was coming.  Just like last year, when UGA jumped out to a 19-5 lead in Rupp before losing in overtime.  Or in Athens last year when the Dawgs were up 64-61 with a little over 5 minutes left only to lose 82-77.  In 2016, Georgia saw its 62-54 advantage evaporate over the final 13 minutes and turn into a 93-80 Wildcat win.  In 2015, UGA was up by 6 with over 5 minutes to go in Athens before Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns took over and willed Kentucky to the 72-64 victory.

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Depressed yet?  If so, that’s ok.  You should be.  When it comes to Kentucky, Georgia continues to be ever so close, but they just can’t seem to get over the hump and figure out a way to keep the lead until the clock hits zero.

As far as Kentucky teams go, this one doesn’t seem as gifted as the ones of years past.  Sure, they have three guys that are projected to go in the first round of next year’s NBA draft.  But, they don’t have a De’Aaron Fox.  Or a Malik Monk. Or: Julius Randle, Eric Bledsoe, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, John Wall…This year’s Kentucky team doesn’t seem to have a guy who can absolutely take over a ball game whenever he wants.  That player might emerge as the season progresses, but they aren’t there yet.

This was a winnable game for Georgia, yet they didn’t win.  Should the Dawgs be satisfied with another moral victory against Coach Cal as they have in years past?  I don’t know.

Here’s what happened: 

On defense:

Georgia’s effort on defense last night was nothing short of relentless. Coach Fox kept his team in man-to-man for the majority of the game, sprinkling in some zone occasionally just to give the Cats some different looks.  The Dawgs did an excellent job of staying in front of the opposition and closing out on shots.  Kentucky had only 6 field goals at the half.  On the night, the Cats shot only 31% from the floor.

The only time in this contest when UGA’s defense softened up a bit was down the final stretch when Kentucky went 5 of 5 from the floor over the last 4 minutes of play.  Both Alexander-Gilgeous and Wenyen Gabriel hit wide open three-pointers, and Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Gilgeous all got into the lane for fairly easy layups.  Alexander-Gilgeous finished the game with 21 points, but only two other Cats ended up in double-figures: Quade Green (15pts) and Diallo (10pts).

On offense: 

Georgia’s frontcourt flexed its muscles in Rupp Arena on Sunday evening as Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds scored 17, 13, and 12 points, respectively.  Maten also tallied 12 rebounds en route to another double-double.  The Dawgs scored 34 points in paint against Kentucky, and those three mentioned above accounted for 42 of the team’s 61 points.

The only problem is that this was exactly what Coach Cal had game-planned: make the UGA guards beat them. The Cats showed Georgia full-court pressure often, and even in the half court set the Kentucky guards were picking the UGA guards up as soon as they crossed the line.  The whole night the Georgia guards struggled to set up the Dawgs’ offense because they were constantly being forced to handle the ball well beyond the three-point line.

Turtle Jackson picked up 2 fouls in the first half and had to sit for nearly 13 minutes, and then he got tabbed for his 4th foul with almost 14 minutes left and Georgia up 42-35.  While Turtle is not the most deft ball-handler, he brings a calming presence to the Dawgs’ offense, and it’s quite noticeable when he’s not on the court.

With Turtle out, the Dawgs had to turn to Tyree Crump and Teshaun Hightower to run the UGA offense and that did not go so well.  Crump had a particularly off night, shooting just 1 of 9 from the floor and committing two costly turnovers that both led to Kentucky points.  Hightower missed both his shots, which came from beyond the arc (where he is now 1 of 13 on the year), and turned the ball over once himself in just 5 minutes of play.

The Dawgs had 5 turnovers as a team over the 5 minutes from when they held that 42-35 advantage, and with 8:03 remaining Kentucky took a 47-46 lead following a layup by Diallo.

UGA had 15 turnovers on the night and those turned into 19 Wildcat points.

Miscellaneous:

-Juwan Parker had a really nice old-fashioned three-point play in the second half to give UGA a 42-34 advantage with over 14 minutes left.  He committed a turnover a minute later and was buried on the bench by Fox for nearly the remainder of the game (he back in with 28 seconds left and the game basically over). In lieu of Parker, Fox went with Jordan Harris, who went 1 for 3 from the floor, grabbed 3 rebounds and committed 2 turnovers.  Neither Parker nor Harris is particularly strong on the perimeter defensively.  This certainly wasn’t Parker’s finest game as a Bulldog (5 points), but I don’t think he deserved 17 minutes to Harris’s 21 minutes, and it might have been nice to have a senior on the court while Kentucky was putting together its final run.  As far as Harris is concerned, I expected more growth from year 1 to year 2 from him considering he was a 4-star recruit, and so far I haven’t seen it.

-Georgia shot 21 free throws to Kentucky’s 38, although, when you play in Rupp Arena that’s kind of to be expected.  The Cats got 14 more points from the charity stripe than UGA in a game that was decided by just 5 points.

-Yante Maten, who struggled to get to 17 points on a 5 for 15 performance from the floor, has to be frustrated with this loss as he is still winless against the Cats for his career and he may not get another crack at them unless they run into Kentucky in the SEC Tournament.  Honestly, I feel for Maten.  It has to be irritating to lose to a new group of freshmen every year.

This loss doesn’t hurt the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament hopes.  Georgia still has a chance to put together a really nice season.  But they have to get over it quickly because Ole Miss will be in Stegeman on Wednesday night looking for its second conference win.

 

 

Kentucky ends Georgia’s SEC tournament run

First off, a huge thank you to my friend Decatur Dawg for keeping the updates going over the past week as I completed a 108-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail in southern New Mexico.  I managed to catch the first two games via WatchESPN on my phone, and I even got to see today’s game in a sports bar in Silver City, NM, but without access to a computer I could have not written a single word about what transpired in Nashville, so I most certainly appreciate all his efforts.

This afternoon, the Dawgs put together their best half of the season en route to a 49-44 halftime lead.  Everything that could have possibly been clicking for Georgia was clicking: Kenny Gaines had 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, Yante Maten was making every hook shot he could get up, and even seldomly used Turtle Jackson chipped in a pair of three’s.

But alas, UGA couldn’t sustain its 61% field goal shooting for ever.  The Dawgs cooled off after the the intermission, connecting on just 34% of their shots from the floor, while Kentucky warmed up, making over 55% of their tries from the field.

Oh yea, and Georgia’s star player, J.J. Frazier, went down a little over 4 minutes into the second half with a painful-looking ankle injury that resulted from him landing ackwardly on the foot of a Kentucky big on a drive to the basket.  Frazier headed to the lockerroom for treatment, and he did gut it out and return, but J.J. was not the same, moving gingerly around the court as he tried his best to play through the injury.

Kentucky capitalized while Frazier was sidelined, erasing a 62-54 UGA lead over the next five minutes.  Isaiah Briscoe, who finished with 12 points, made a layup with 8:16 remaining to give his Wildcats a 68-67 advantage. Briscoe hit a jumper with 6 minutes left to send the Wildcat lead to 74-69, capping off a 20-7 Kentucky run.  At this point, Big Blue Nation was on its feet and as loud as ever as their beloved Cats ran away with the game down the stretch on its way to 93-80 semifinal victory.

Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulises lived up to their All-SEC billings, scoring 26 and 25 points, respectively.  Coach Calipari’s team was extremely protective of the ball, turning it over just 5 times on Saturday; UGA had only 12 turnovers themselves, but the Cats were opportunistic and converted them into 20 points.

Credit Coach Mark Fox and his staff for putting up such a valiant effort, especially considering his team was coming off back-to-back late night tips. Fox employed a wholesale substitution strategy throughout the first half in an effort to keep his guys fresh, and while it seemed unorthodox, for the most part it worked.  Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier led the Dawgs with 20 and 19 points, respectively.  Gaines chipped in 16 points, though he failed to convert a field goal following the halftime break.

Moving forward, it seems most likely that Georgia will be hosting an NIT game next week.  The Dawgs’ RPI should hover around 60 even with today’s loss, and they could possibly receive a small boost from Seton Hall’s Big East conference championship.  By no means is Georgia completely out of the picture regarding the Big Dance: the committee has selected teams with RPI’s in the 60s before, Georgia has a highly-respected non-conference schedule and I’m just certain that the SEC will get at least 3 teams (2 would be a complete slap to the league’s face as a Power 5 conference).

For now, UGA fans should be proud of their team and hopeful that the selection committee liked what they saw in Nashville this week.

Dawgs win late night, set up rematch with Kentucky

Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson does just about everything he can to draw attention to himself at all times.

Ironically, Georgia put together its best overall team effort of the season en route to an exciting 75-73 win that went late into the evening on Friday in the Georgia Dome.

After Charles Mann gave UGA the go ahead layup to make it 74-73 with 16 seconds remaining, Andy Kennedy called timeout to get his team ready for its final possession.

Georgia fans nervously suffered through this endless 30 seconds, waiting to see if Coach Mark Fox’s team had one last defense stand in them.

Fortunately, they did.

As soon as the ball touched Henderson’s hands he launched an off-balance three from the wing that glanced the side of the rim before falling into Marcus Thornton’s hands.

Thornton got one of the two free throws, giving UGA a 75-73 advantage.

The Rebels’ Jarvis Summers – who was unstoppable, scoring a game-high 26 points on the night – couldn’t connect on his last-second attempt from the corner and the Dawgs earned a chance to play Kentucky today in the semifinal round of the SEC tournament.

Charles Mann led UGA with 16 points, but credit the Georgia reserves and role players for stepping up big and keeping the Dawgs in the game in the first half.

Mann, Kenny Gaines and Marcus Thornton all picked up two fouls before the break, causing them to miss a ton of time in the first half.

With Ole Miss leading 18-7 and nearly 13 minutes remaining before the intermission, things were looking bleak for the Dawgs as their star point guard had to take a seat after picking up his second foul.

Freshman J.J. Frazier came to the rescue though, connecting on a pair of threes and a floater in the lane, scoring 8 of his 11 points in the game’s first half.  Frazier’s spark off the bench was instrumental in the UGA comeback, and his scoring helped the Dawgs go into the half down by only a basket.

Brandon Morris did miss a couple close shots down the stretch, but he finished with 12 points on an array of drives from the wing.

In just 23 minutes, Marcus Thornton nearly notched another double-double, netting 9 points to go along with a team-high 11 rebounds. Thornton was aggressive when he received the ball in the paint, enabling him to shoot 10 free throws on the night.  Thankfully for Georgia, Thornton made 7 of those attempts, several of them coming at critical moments down the stretch.

Marshall Henderson did manage to score 19 points, but I think it is safe to say that he may have shot his team out of the game.  UGA’s Kenny Gaines and Juwan Parker tirelessly chased Henderson all over the court, frustrating the Ole Miss senior into a 2 for 16 performance from beyond the arc.

Now, I’ve never been to Rupp Arena, but I have a decent idea of what it might be like after sitting through the Kentucky-LSU game last night.  Mark Fox was quoted earlier in the week as saying that he is tired of hearing about “Catlanta”, but his complaints had no effect no the Big Blue nation’s travel plans.

The Dawgs will be playing just an hour from Athens today in the Georgia Dome, but that arena is going to seem pretty hostile to Coach Mark Fox’s team.

If Georgia can weather the initial storm and get the game played at a half court pace, they could frustrate this young Wildcat team into forcing it a bit.

When these two teams met earlier this year in Lexington, Kentucky routed the Dawgs 79-54 – however, Georgia was playing without its second-leading scorer (Gaines), and the Dawgs were within 8 points with 12 minutes left in the contest.

If UGA wants into this year’s NCAA tourney, then they need to get into tomorrow’s SEC championship game.

Actually, CBS’s Jerry Palm thinks Georgia needs more:

Short-handed Georgia loses at #14 Kentucky

When teams go into Rupp Arena to take on the Kentucky Wildcats, they typically like to be at full strength. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Georgia (10-8; 4-2) on Saturday as Coach Mark Fox’s squad played without the services of Kenny Gaines and Juwan Parker. Gaines, who was dealing with a deep leg bruise, is one of UGA’s leading scorers at 12 points per game, and the freshman Parker has already started a handful of games this season.

Georgia got down big in the first half after a relentless 13-0 Kentucky run that ran the score up to 25-10 following a Derek Willis layup with 5:46 remaining before intermission. At this point, it appeared that the Cats were on the verge of delivering a knockout blow and putting the game out of reach.

To the Dawgs’ credit however, UGA fought back. Brandon Morris scored 8 of his team-leading 15 points over the next 5-plus minutes, and Georgia went into the break trailing Kentucky 34-22.

While Georgia was unable to reclaim the lead in this game, they did get to within 6 points after a pair of free throws from Charles Mann trimmed the UK advantage to 37-31 with 16:19 left int he game.

Eventually, Kentucky’s talent became too much and the Cats pushed the lead out to 63-39 following a 12-0 run. With only 6 minutes remaining in the contest, Coach Cal’s team would cruise for the remainder of the game, earning the 79-54 victory.

Despite the fact that UK seemingly ran one 7-footer into the game after another, Georgia still battled strongly on the boards, out-rebounding Kentucky by a count of 35-32.

Kentucky’s strategy on Charles Mann – which was basically to have him facing pressure from the moment he received the ball under his own goal – served to wear down the sophomore, who only just 9 points on a 1 of 9 shooting performance from the floor.

Other than Morris, the only UGA player to score in double-digits was Marcus Thornton, who finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds while shooting just 2 of 10 on field goals. At the risk of sounding like a broken record I will say this again: if Thornton could ever start finishing consistently around the rim he would score 15+ points a night.

To be fair, it was a tough shooting night for the entire Bulldog team as they connected on less than 33% of their field goals. In addition to the poor shooting, Georgia committed 20 turnovers inside Rupp, a credit to the Cats’ defensive intensity.

Kentucky had four players finish in double-figures in scoring with freshman Aaron Harrison leading the way with 15 points.

The bottom line is that UK’s lineup and bench is full of McDonald’s All-Americans and four-star recruits, and Georgia’s roster doesn’t include either of those. When Kentucky is this talented it is difficult for a team like UGA to hang around for 40 minutes, especially when playing without the services of one of their leading scorers.

The silver lining in all of this is that the Dawgs managed to split conference games again this week, and if they can continue to produce similar results they should end up with a winning SEC record.

Georgia gets Vanderbilt at home on Wednesday – a team that will be coming off of its first conference road win, following a 66-55 victory at Texas A&M.

Georgia looks to burst Kentucky’s bubble in Athens

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the network’s NCAA Tournament guru, has Kentucky currently placed in his “First Four Out” portion of the field, which implies that the Wildcats are riding the NCAA “Bubble” hard. A loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on Thursday night in Athens could certainly put a major damper on the Cats’ postseason hopes, meaning Coach Calipari’s team will probably be treating this game similarly to a playoff match-up.

However, the stakes in tonight’s game are pretty high for the Dawgs as well, who need a win to keep pace with Tennessee (10-7), LSU (9-8) and Arkansas (9-8) if they hope to avoid the dreaded 8-/9-seed game in this year’s SEC Tournament (UGA is in the 9-spot at the moment).

Since losing “Mr. Do-Everything” – freshman Nerlens Noel – Cal’s team has mustered just a 3-3 conference record (if you include the Florida game in which Noel went down with the knee injury). Noel anchored the Kentucky defense, averaging 4.4 blocks and nearly 10 rebounds a game. Over the past five games without Noel, the Cats have allowed SEC opponents to score 70 or more points in four of those games, which is definitely concerning since Kentucky had only allowed three league teams to post 70 points or more over the previous ten games.

Coach Cal’s team has not been able to get it together away from Rupp without the services of their big man, dropping road games at Tennessee and Arkansas (last Saturday). If the Cats want to dance this March, they will have to find a way to sneak out of Stegeman with a win on Thursday.

Offensively, Kentucky’s scoring is extremely balanced, with five players averaging over 8 points per game. Leading the way is freshman guard Archie Goodwin, who is netting a team-best 12.1 points per SEC contest.

For Georgia, Thursday’s game against Kentucky gives the Dawgs another chance to even up their overall record, which currently rests at 14-15. In addition, a victory over the Cats would greatly help UGA in its attempts to jockey for a slightly higher seed than 8 in next week’s SEC Tournament.

With Kentucky’s athleticism, I would be surprised if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets many good looks at the basket in this one. Coach Mark Fox will need more aggressive point guard play from freshman Charles Mann, who is coming off a career-high 18 points against Tennessee in game in which he repeatedly attacked the rim off the dribble.

Las Vegas is giving Kentucky a 3.5-point edge in this one, which may provide UGA with a little extra fuel leading up to the game.

While nearly 10,000 people packed into the Steg to see Tennessee last Saturday, I anticipate a near-capacity crowd Thursday night in what should be the most prestigious home game of the season.

Hopefully Georgia is ready.