Georgia manhandles LSU in Athens

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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.

A few observations from Georgia’s close loss at LSU

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The Georgia Bulldogs (7-2, 0-2) are no strangers to moral victories, which is essentially what the Dawgs got in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night in their 94-92 overtime loss to the LSU Tigers. UGA dropped its first SEC road game of the season in dramatic fashion in a game that Georgia led 80-74 with less than two minutes to go in regulation.

Typically when teams are leading down stretch of games they tend to try to run clock and reduce the number of possessions. This strategy may have backfired on Georgia, however, as playing half court basketball is just not a strength for this team. The Dawgs last two possessions of regulation resulted in a turnover and a miss on a rushed shot from P.J. Horne with the shot clock expiring. I almost wonder if this UGA team should buck the tradition of milking clock and just play fast the whole game, regardless of the situation.

Here are a few other observations:

The Tigers played defense when they needed to down the stretch of this contest

LSU, who entered this game as the 9th best defense in the SEC at 68 points a night, appeared disinterested in playing defense for much of this contest. The Tigers have the best three-point defense in the SEC (27%), yet they allowed the Dawgs, who have been connecting on just 30% from beyond the arc this season, to knock down 12 triples (9 of which came from Justin Kier and Horne).

Will Wade’s team ratcheted up the defense when it needed to, though. Georgia had all the momentum with 9:07 left after Justin Kier finished at the rim to give his team a 68-58 advantage. Unfortunately, the bigger, more athletic Tigers eventually decided to tighten things up, and that enabled them to go on a 13-2 run that saw LSU take a 71-70 lead two minutes later after a pair of free throws from Cameron Thomas. It was pretty obvious that this talented Tiger team can put the clamps down pretty quickly when they feel pressed.

Georgia’s offense found itself again

The Dawgs were held to 73 points and kept in relative check last week against Missy State, however, this was not the case in Baton Rouge. Georgia had great energy from the start and looked fast and crisp with the ball. By halftime, Georgia had connected on 50% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc. UGA had 11 turnovers, but they also had 11 assists.

Sahvir Wheeler, who had been in a bit of a mini-slump, was far more effective on Wednesday. Wheeler scored 21 points to go along with 9 assists. He kept pushing the ball into the teeth of the Tiger defense and finding open teammates on kickouts. The sophomore looked the part of a point guard facilitating offense and getting his teammates involved.

Graduate transfers Kier and Horne were the prime benefactors of Wheeler’s creativity as they finished with 25 and 11, respectively. These two seniors have developed into legitimate threats from the perimeter, which definitely opens things up a bit for the Dawgs in the half court set.

UGA’s help defense must improve

LSU had numerous drives to the basket that were essentially uncontested. Too many times an LSU guard got past the UGA backcourt defender only to find no one from Georgia’s frontcourt their to meet them. Considering that the Dawgs will be undersized in nearly every conference game, it seems as if swarming to the basketball and providing weak side help would have to be tenets for this bunch on defense.

A couple of stats that jumped out at me:

  • Cameron Thomas, who Georgia limited to 5 of 17 from the floor, still ended up with 26 points thanks to a 15 of 16 effort from the FT line
  • LSU had 19 steals
  • Georgia had 28 fast break points to LSU’s 3
  • UGA won the battle of the boards 43-40
  • Justin Kier was definitely not out of bounds near the end of OT, and UGA should have been given the ball with a chance to tie