The Georgia Bulldogs (14-9, 7-9) cruised by LSU 91-78 on Tuesday night in Athens. This Tiger team entered this contest on a three-game winning streak and tied for 2nd in the SEC standings. The Dawgs opened up a double-digit lead with over 2 minutes left in the first half in a game that Georgia led for nearly 94% of the time. The closest Will Wade’s team got to UGA in the second half was 14 points in what was just a dominant performance by UGA.
Let’s just get the most obvious point out of the way first, and that is that Sahvir Wheeler is absolutely living his best life. The sophomore followed up his career-high 27-point effort against Florida with the first triple-double in UGA basketball history (14 points, 11 boards, 13 assists). Lately, Wheeler has been doing it all. However, he has been most notably hitting his stride on the break, where he is letting his teammates get set and finding them in the open spots in the transition offense. Wheeler has improved so much this season in that context as he’s realized that he doesn’t have to take everything to the rim as hard as he possibly can.
The Dawgs were clicking on all cylinders this evening as they hit over 46% from the floor and were just a bucket shy of having 3 guys finish with over 20 points; Toumani Camara had 22, KD Johnson had 21 and Tye Fagan ended up with 18. This triumvirate along with Wheeler completely shredded an uninspired LSU defense.
The Tigers’ defense was nothing short of atrocious. Honestly, they look like 5 guys who just met and got next in a pick-up game and then proceed to play zone because nobody wants to or knows how to play man. Will Wade’s team possesses all the key attributes of that type of defense: low effort, poor rotations, and no communication. I recognize that this has been an issue for the Tigers all season as they entered this one ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring defense, but when you see how little intensity they play with firsthand it’s eye-opening. The Dawgs ended the first half on a 21-6 run over the final 5 minutes and had hung 45 on the Tigers heading into the intermission.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well at the start of the game, but the difference was that Georgia stuck with its defensive gameplan throughout. After 10 minutes of play, Georgia had made only 40% of its shots and LSU just 31%. The Dawgs’ offense obviously picked things up (see paragraphs 2 and 3). However, it was UGA’s defense that appeared to frustrate the Tigers. Tom Crean’s team did an excellent job of staying in front of LSU’s ballhandlers, and the Tigers ended up settling for a lot of outside shots. This strategy didn’t pan out well for Wade’s bunch as they made only 40% from the floor and just 26% from beyond the arc. This was a solid defensive performance by the Dawgs against a team that came into this game with the second-best scoring offense in the SEC (81 ppg) as well as the second-best shooting percentage from the field (46%).
With 7 league wins and counting, Tom Crean has this program trending in the right direction. His first season, UGA won just 2 SEC games, and last year they managed 5. There’s no reason to think that next year’s team won’t have a legitimate shot at the NCAA tournament.
That being said, Georgia just won its 3rd Quadrant 1 game of the year, and the Dawgs are once again in that territory where the NCAA tournament bubble is still a far-off place, but it’s not unreachable. To get closer to that magical spot, UGA has to get it done against South Carolina and not allow Frank Martin to extend his program’s winning streak over Georgia to 10 games this Saturday.