Kentucky too much for Georgia

Any notion Georgia (19-14) might have had of playing another close game with Kentucky (27-5) in today’s SEC tournament were quickly put to rest by a Wildcat team that came out determined to defend UGA better than it had during the regular season.  The Cats halfcourt defense suffocated Georgia and forced the Dawgs to start its offense well outside the three-point line.  J.J. Frazier constantly found himself surrounded by Kentucky defenders, and even when he didn’t have the ball a Wildcat defender was usually right on him playing deny defense.  Yante Maten, who still didn’t look anywhere close to 100%, struggled to score the ball around the rim.

Kentucky certainly wasn’t at its best offensively, but Georgia’s woes on that end of the  court made it impossible for the Dawgs to seriously threaten Coach Calipari’s team.  Georgia shot just 30% from the floor and turned it over 7 times in the first half, yet they only trailed the Cats 32-25 at the break.  A decent finish to the half – capped off by a corner three-pointer from Tyree Crump – offered UGA a glimmer of hope going into the intermission.

That hope, though, was dashed almost immediately by Kentucky at the start of the second half.  The Dawgs began the half with a turnover and 3 misses, and the Cats quickly pushed their advantage to 38-25.  UGA would only score 5 points for more than 8 minutes to begin the second half, and by the time Juwan Parker knocked down a jumper with 11:43 remaining the Dawgs had fallen behind 47-32.

Kentucky pushed its lead to 18 points after a monster dunk by Bam Adebayo with 9:54 left, making it 50-32.  Georgia couldn’t manage to cut the lead to under double-digits again, and the Wildcats essentially cruised to their first win of the SEC tournament.

Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aron Fox went for 20 apiece, but for the most part, Georgia defended the Cats pretty well.  The Dawgs contained Malik Monk, who they held to just 2 points, and they limited Kentucky to only 38% from the floor.

But ultimately the Dawgs’ offense did them in.  UGA finished with 13 turnovers, with J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten leading the way with 3 each.  Frazier and Maten scored 15 and 12, respectively, but they combined for just 7 for 28 from the floor, which just isn’t good enough for a team hoping to upset the SEC’s best team.

Georgia’s NCAA tournament hopes are just about done.  If there’s any silver lining, I did read that UGA could potentially receive a 2-seed in the NIT.

 

 

 

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Kentucky overcomes upset-minded UGA

12450736When Yante Maten went down with a knee injury just two minutes into the game yesterday against Kentucky, the collective hopes of everyone inside Stegemen Coliseum rooting for Georgia to get the signature win it desperately needed took a major hit. Maten spent about 10 minutes in the locker room before gingerly making his way back to the UGA bench, where he sat for the rest of the evening.  Georgia’s big man, who has been a nightmare for opposing defenses all season, could barely put any pressure on his right leg.

This should have been enough to break the Dawgs’ spirits.  With their leader done for the night, UGA could easily have crumbled, considering the daunting task that now lay before them.  Yet, for some reason, they didn’t. Georgia simply dug in and went toe-to-toe with the #13 Wildcats for the next 38 minutes.  Kentucky’s roster is so loaded with talent that Coach Calipari sends in 5-star recruits off the bench, whereas Mark Fox has to add Juwan Parker and Mike Edwards’s recruiting stars together to get to five.  Regardless, the Dawgs found themselves with possession of the basketball with 44 seconds left and the game tied at 75 apiece.  As the shot clock melted down, Kentucky sent an extra defender to jump J.J. Frazier at the top of the key.  Frazier kicked it to Pape Diatta, who forced the ball into the lane and ended up getting blocked by two Wildcat defenders.  The Cats took the lead on the ensuing possession following a pair of free throws from De’Aaron Fox, Frazier missed his next jumper and Kentucky managed to hit its free throws and escape from Athens with the 82-77 road win.

Despite the overwhelming amount of talent that Calipari has at his disposal, the best player on the court on Saturday was easily Georgia’s J.J. Frazier.  J.J. hit a three-pointer with time expiring from just inside Milledge Avenue to cut the Kentucky lead to 33-31 as the teams headed into the intermission.  This shot electrified the Steg and was just a little preview of what UGA fans could expect to see from their point guard in the second half.

After the break, Frazier became superman.  J.J. diced up the Kentucky defense and scored 22 points on an array of challenging layups that seemingly increased in difficulty level as the game progressed. By the end of this contest, Frazier had 36 points, and Kentucky had a bunch of angry guards who had fouled out trying to deal with him.  Isaiah Briscoe, who had over 20 points when these team met earlier in Lexington, couldn’t control his emotions as J.J. continually bruised his ego; Briscoe would score only 9 points before fouling out with almost 5 minutes left in the game.  His replacement, Dominique Hawkins, also racked up 5 personals trying to stay in front of Frazier.

Even De’Aaron Fox missed significant minutes due to foul trouble (another credit to Frazier), but Fox got himself together and poured in 14 of his 16 points after the break, providing Kentucky the spark it desperately needed to keep up with the Dawgs.

As fantastic as Frazier played, he didn’t pull off this near upset all by himself. Juwan Parker and Mike Edwards also ended up in double-figures with 10 points each.  Edwards played with a level of toughness inside that he hadn’t yet displayed in his initial two years in Athens.

Derek Ogbeide only chipped in 4 points, but he was the anchor of the UGA defense, holding down the paint and snagging a team-high 11 rebounds.  Bam Adebayo scored 13 points for the Cats, but half of those points came at the expense of Houston Kessler.

And while Diatta’s quasi-turnover came at an incredibly inopportune time for the Dawgs, Pape played an otherwise solid second half.  He scored all 9 of his points after the break, including a huge three-pointer from the wing that gave Georgia a 64-61 lead with a little over 5 minutes remaining.

The only other Kentucky player to score in double-digits was Malik Monk, who notched 16 points on a frustrating 3 for 11 performance from the field, a far cry from the 37-point effort he put in the first time these teams matched up.

For the most part, UGA played a pretty sound game defensively.  Probably the biggest negative the Dawgs will take away from this game is that they allowed the Cats to control the glass by a tally of 41-26.  More importantly, UGA yielded 14 offensive boards to Kentucky, which led to 8 second chance points that may have ultimately been the difference in this one.

In the end, Georgia came up a little short of pulling off this miracle, and Coach Fox’s teams have now lost 23 straight games to ESPN RPI Top 25 teams.  A season that began with high expectations may be over in less than 3 weeks.  With a 15-12 record (6-8 SEC), UGA isn’t going to the NCAA tournament, and depending on Maten’s status, they may miss the NIT as well.

With all that being said, UGA fans had to be darn proud of the way those kids in the white jerseys fought for 40 minutes yesterday.

 

Kentucky whips Georgia in Lexington

Here are some of my thoughts from that 82-48 shellacking:

Epic scoring drought

Georgia, a team that has had its offensive issues as of late, took it to a whole new level in Lexington on Tuesday night.  To be specific, Kenny Gaines hit a three-pointer to cut the Kentucky lead to 19-13 with 13:36 left in the half, and then UGA didn’t score a field goal for the next 18 minutes.  Let that sink in for a second.

By the time Charles Mann finally broke the dry spell on a lay up in the second half, Kentucky’s lead had grown to 52-26 with a little over 15 minutes remaining in the game.  Not making any field goals for nearly half the game is a recipe for disaster against just about any college basketball team, but it’s especially detrimental when it happens at Rupp against the #22 Wildcats.  Georgia’s 11 field goals tonight set a season low for Power 5 conference teams (UGA hit just 22% of its attempts from the floor).

Kentucky experienced an offensive rut of its own in the first half, going almost 7 minutes without a field goal, which allowed the Dawgs to get to within 6 points. Coach Calipari’s team snapped out of its funk, though, while Georgia didn’t, ending any hopes that Coach Fox’s team might have had of keeping the game close heading into the intermission; Kentucky led 42-24 at the break.

Kentucky’s backcourt dominance

UGA came into Rupp hoping that its backcourt would carry them on the road.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs trio of J.J. Frazier, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines were simply outplayed by the Wildcat guards.  Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis scored 24 and 14, respectively, with Murray knocking down 6 of his 10 three-point attempts.  In addition to his 14 points, Ulis had 8 assists and 3 steals, and he had J.J. Frazier’s number from the opening tip.

Frazier, Gaines and Mann combined for just 21 points, hitting 5 of their collective 24 attempts from the field. Frazier, who had only 4 of those points, failed to connect from the floor, missing all 8 of his attempts.

Turnover differential

The Dawgs do not have the firepower on their roster to go into Lexington and play sloppy, and yet, that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night for Coach Fox’s team.  Credit the Wildcats – they have great athletes and Calipari does get them to play hard man defense. But Georgia was extremely careless with the ball on Tuesday, turning it over 15 times. Unfortunately, Kentucky committed just 7 turnovers, so Georgia gifted the Wildcats, who made over 52% from the floor, an extra 8 possessions.  The culprit for 6 of UGA’s turnovers was none other than senior Charles Mann.

Georgia is now 13-9 overall and 6-5 in the SEC. Sadly, UGA just made its second consecutive appearance on ESPN’s “Bubble Watch” prior to tonight’s game. But after suffering their second beatdown to a ranked team on national television, the Dawgs are more than likely off that bubble now.

UGA has a couple of days off before hitting the road again to take on Missy State in Starkville this Saturday night.

 

 

Three quick takeaways from the UGA-UK game

The game tonight in Stegeman was definitely the best atmosphere for a UGA home game that I can remember.  Charles Barkley, Bill Belicheck and anyone other celebrity in attendance had to be impressed with the turnout from the Georgia faithful.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

Kentucky looked like a team that knew how to win

Coach Calipari’s team did not wither when J.J. Frazier hit a three-pointer from just inside Milledge Avenue to send the Dawgs up 50-43, blowing the roof off of Stegeman Coliseum.  Instead, they hung around, keeping the game within reaching distance.  After Marcus Thornton buried a pair of free throws with 5:36 remaining, his team held a slim 62-56 lead.  However, the Cats took over at that point, scoring 14 unanswered points.  Karl-Anthony Towns, who was unstoppable tonight, netted 7 of his game-high 19 during that critical stretch.  When the dust finally settled, UGA’s upset bid had come short, and Kentucky left the Steg with a 72-64 victory, its 30th of the season.

Georgia’s frontcourt carried them

Neme Djurisic played fantastic in his final game in Athens, driving the ball fearlessly at the multitude of Kentucky 7-footers.  On Senior Night, Djurisic scored 18 points to go along with 6 rebounds, and his offense enabled the Dawgs to stay tight with the Cats all night.  His partner down low, Marcus Thornton, chipped in 14 points in addition to his 7 boards.  With the Georgia guards struggling to find offense – Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier shot a combined 2 for 9 from beyond the arc – the bigs kept Mark Fox’s team in the game.

UGA passes the eye test

With ESPN and Jay Bilas in attendance, the Dawgs played Kentucky neck-n-neck for nearly 35 minutes.  Any doubts that outsiders may have had regarding this team were surely put to rest after tonight’s gutty performance by this group of Bulldogs.  Georgia has the look of an NCAA tournament team, and its team and its fans should certainly be excited about what lies ahead in March.

Georgia’s upset bid at Kentucky comes up short

The Georgia Bulldogs had two moments in tonight’s game against the #1 Kentucky Wildcats in which they could have easily laid down and given up.

The first one came right out of the gates, when the Cats opened up an 11-1 lead before this game was even 4 minutes old.  At this point, Kentucky had made more field goals than UGA had even attempted.  Yet, Georgia got 5 quick points from Neme Djurisic and found itself trailing 11-6 with 15:11 to go before the break.

Another point in this game when I thought UGA might be finished was during the initial minutes right out of halftime.  Kentucky, who held a 42-27 lead at the intermission, went up by 18 points after a three-pointer by Andrew Harrison.  But the Dawgs responded with an 11-3 run that saw them cut the score to 50-40 following a layup by Kenny Gaines with a little over 15 minutes remaining.

Georgia actually had a chance to get within a possession with a little over 9 minutes left in the game after Yante Maten buried a jumper from the top of the key, cutting the Kentucky lead to 56-49. The Cats then went scoreless for over 4 minutes, but UGA couldn’t capitalize, turning the ball over once and missing two field goals and a free throw.  Eventually, UK’s Devin Booker broke free on a break for a layup that put his team up 58-49 with 5:44 remaining.

The nail in the coffin came when Karl-Anthony Towns hit a hook shot with only 1:36 left to send the Cats up 65-58.  Kentucky would end up winning 69-58 by the time the final horn sounded.

For so many reasons, Georgia, who entered this game as a 19-point underdog, had no business making this a two-possession game in the contest’s closing minutes.  For one, Kentucky has nearly as many McDonald’s All-Americans as UGA has scholarship players.  Second, the Dawgs were on the road once again without their leading scorer and rebounder, Marcus Thornton.

And even though UGA’s backcourt of Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and J.J. Frazier combined for only 20 points, making only 5 of their 22 attempts from the floor, Georgia still hung around in Lexington and made this one competitive.

The Dawgs’ frontcourt shined on Tuesday, with Neme leading his team with 17 points to go along with 7 rebounds.  Yante Maten played arguably his best game of the year, scoring 13 points and grabbing 9 boards – just missing his first career double-double.

Kentucky was led offensively by Andrew Harrison, who netted 23 points on the night.

All silver linings aside though, Georgia’s SEC record now stands at 5-4, putting them in a tie with Tennessee for 4th place in the league.  The Dawgs will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak this Saturday when they host the Vols in Athens for a noon tip.

Let’s hope that Marcus Thornton is cleared to play because UGA is back in a “must win” situation.

Dawgs out of SEC tournament, looking towards postseason play

Sometimes talent triumphs grittiness and effort.

At least that was the lesson the Georgia Bulldogs learned yesterday in its 70-58 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals round of the SEC tournament.

The Cats are a physically impressive bunch, especially when viewed in person.

If you think having a 6’4″ point guard like Charles Mann is nice, guess what? Kentucky has two of them – each of the Harrison twins is 6’6″ and they both handle the ball well.

Julius Randle is 6’10” of pure muscle, and he too can move with the athleticism of a guard or wing.

The fact that UGA hung around and managed to make it a game at all is a testament to Coach Mark Fox’s system and his players’ belief in that system.

Just as in the Ole Miss game, Georgia had to play much of the first half with four starters – Mann, Kenny Gaines, Brandon Morris and Donte Williams – on the bench with two fouls each.

Once again, UGA’s reserves stepped up – JuWan Parker scored 7 points and J.J. Frazier contributed another 5 (to go along with 3 rebounds). Neme Djurisic and Cameron Forte scored 4 points apiece, and the Dawgs went into the intermission trailing Kentucky 36-32.

These aforementioned UGA players were all two-star recruits coming out of high school, and yet they managed to keep the Dawgs competitive in a game against a team that has McDonald’s All-Americans on its bench.

In the second half, though, UK’s talent took over.

Kentucky tightened up its defense, making it very difficult for Georgia to get good looks near the basket. The Cats are so long and athletic that it felt like there were six or seven of them on defense each possession.

For the majority of the afternoon, Georgia had the game played at the pace it wanted – slow and deliberate. The speed of the game definitely slowed down the Kentucky offense, but unfortunately for UGA, Kentucky turned in one of its better shooting performances of the season.

The Wildcats, who ranked near the bottom of the SEC in three-point percentage at just 32% in league games, knocked down an impressive 9 of their 16 attempts from beyond the arc. These three-pointers were devastating for the Dawgs, and they enabled UK to secure the 70-58 victory and earn a chance to play the Florida Gators on Sunday.

Georgia got as close as 3 points after a free throw from Neme to make it 46-43 with 13 minutes remaining, but the Dawgs were unable to wipe out the deficit completely.

UGA was led offensively by Kenny Gaines, who scored all 13 of his points in the game’s second half. Charles Mann was the only other Bulldog to finish in double-digits, contributing 12 points.

This loss pretty much assures that Georgia will not be playing in the NCAA tournament this season, but with an RPI of 76 the Dawgs look like a lock for the NIT.

Yesterday’s game embodied the kind of overachievement that the Dawgs have produced for much of this season as Georgia played toe-to-toe with a team that began the year ranked #1 in the country.

After a 6-6 start in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Georgia looked like a program that was about to go off the rails once conference play started. In addition to this mediocrity, Coach Mark Fox was being listed on just about every “Hot Seat” compilation being generated amongst college basketball media sources.

Somehow, CMF and his team altered the course of the season. For Georgia to finish the year 19-13 overall and tied for second in the conference is living proof to the amount of heart and perseverance this team possesses.

The Dawgs won 9 of their last 12 games, arguably making them one of the hotter teams in the country.

The knock against Fox has always been his inability to bring in more big-time recruits from the metro Atlanta area, which may be true.

But the guy definitely develops players (see J.J. Frazier, Neme Djurisic, Marcus Thornton, Kenny Gaines), and he finds a way to squeeze every ounce of effort out of his team.

The Dawgs are set to lose just one player from this team -senior Donte Williams – and they should enter next season as one of the favorites to finish near the top of the conference.

Coach Fox seems to have the program going in the right direction.

Georgia keeps bursting bubbles, beats Kentucky 72-62

Georgia headed to a timeout after Kyle Wiltjer hit a three-pointer that cut the UGA lead to 50-47 with 7:47 left in the game. For the first time Thursday night, the Kentucky faithful were on their feet making noise in Athens. The Dawgs had held a 10-point advantage over the Wildcats a little over a minute before this break in the action, but that lead had been cut down to just a possession ball game.

This moment was the exact point in the game when Georgia was supposed to crumple under the pressure of this furious Kentucky onslaught.

Unfortunately for the Cats, Georgia chose to respond, reeling off 12 straight points and opening up a 62-47 advantage with less than four minutes remaining. Georgia would go on to win from here 72-62, possibly putting an end to Kentucky’s NCAA hopes.

UGA’s team defense was tenacious on Thursday, holding the Cats to only 37% from the floor and just 62 points.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 6 points during Georgia’s critical 12-point run, finished the game with 24 points and 10 boards for his sixth double-double of the season.

While KCP was once again the floor general for the Dawgs, Coach Mark Fox received magnificent play from both Donte Williams and Nemanja Djurisic.

Williams, who was a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line for the first time in his young life, contributed 10 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Donte played extremely strong inside for his team tonight, and his ability to make free throws may have been the difference in the game.

Neme snagged 6 boards himself, and he also netted 12 points, including a pair of monster three-pointers in the second half that helped UGA preserve their lead over Kentucky.

Credit Mark Fox for the turn around that this team has undergone right before our eyes this season. Against Kentucky, UGA committed just 10 turnovers; over the past three games, Georgia has given the ball away only 28 times, which is a major improvement for a team that was leading the conference with over 18 turnovers a contest earlier in the year.

The Dawgs followed up the Tennessee win with another dominant effort, and at 9-8 in the SEC they will travel to Alabama on Saturday with a chance to challenge for the 7-seed in this year’s league tournament.

One thing is for sure, this team will be ready to make some noise in Nashville next week.