Dawgs open up with Tigers in first-round of SEC Tourney

The first time Georgia (15-16,9-9) and LSU (18-11,9-9) met this season, the Dawgs rode Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 22 points en route to a 67-58 home victory – their first SEC win of the season. The victory over the Tigers set the Bulldogs off on a run in which they would win 5 of their next 6 games, with the lone loss coming at Florida.

LSU had a “UGA-like” resurgence as well following the loss to the Dawgs, which put them at 0-4 in league play. Since that game, the Tigers have posted a 9-5 conference record, notching wins over Missouri, Alabama and Arkansas.

A large part of LSU’s improved play has rested on the broad shoulders of sophomore big man Johnny O’Bryant III, who has put together an All-SEC calibre season. In conference play, O’Bryant averaged 14.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. The 262-pound forward has registered 11 double-doubles in his 18 SEC games this year. In the loss to Georgia back in January, O’Bryant netted 16 points to go along with 14 boards.

Containing O’Bryant’s physicality in the paint will be a challenge for the Dawgs on Thursday. However, Georgia’s biggest challenge in their first tournament game could be more emotional than physical. After suffering yet another heart-breaking road loss at the buzzer in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, UGA must regain its poise and be ready to deal with a competitive LSU team.

No team in the SEC has had worse luck away from home than Georgia this season, with the Dawgs losing in overtime to Ole Miss as well suffering 2-point, 1-point and 3-point losses at Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively.

Obviously, how deep UGA goes into the tournament in Nashville relies heavily on the play of KCP, the SEC Player of the Year. The sophomore averaged 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals in league games this season, and he played an integral part in all 9 of the Dawgs’ league wins. The true measure of an MVP is how important he is to his team’s success, and Pope – without question – has been absolutely essential to this UGA squad.

In the latest NBAdraft.net projection for the 2013 draft, the site had KCP going at the 30th pick of the first round – the last pick.

Win or lose on Thursday, hopefully it will not be Pope’s last game as a Bulldog.

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Dawgs pull away from Tigers for 67-58 conference victory

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s body language last night gave the impression that he was tired of all the losing and REALLY wanted a win – hand-clapping between possessions, celebrating with teammates during timeouts, etc.

Though KCP finished with a game-high 22 points, his defense may have been the ultimate reason that Georgia (7-10; 1-3) wound up on top on Saturday.

With the Dawgs up 61-56 and less than 90 seconds remaining, LSU had the ball and a chance to make it a one-possession game. Pope would have none of it however, taking the ball from the Tiger guard for his 6th steal of the evening. On the ensuing possession, Vincent Williams was fouled, made both free throws and UGA found itself leading 63-56 with only 50 seconds left. At this point, the game was out of reach for the team from Baton Rouge, and Georgia would walk out of Stegeman with a 67-58 win – their first SEC win of the season.

LSU came into this contest with a bit of a turnover problem – giving it away nearly 18 times a game in conference play – and Saturday was no different as the Tigers handed the ball to the Dawgs 21 times. UGA capitalized on LSU’s carelessness, converting those turnovers into 19 points.

In his post-game conference, Coach Mark Fox praised his team’s defense, which limited LSU to just 36% from the floor. The Tigers’ 58 points marked their second-lowest offensive output of the year thus far.

The UGA bigs had trouble containing Johnny O’Bryant III – who ended up with 16 points and 14 boards – but Georgia did manage to corral the LSU backcourt for much of the game.

For Georgia, the only other player to score in double-digits was junior Donte Williams, who chipped in 14 points, 5 rebounds and a blocked shot in what was definitely his biggest game of the year.

While getting off the snide and securing that first SEC win must feel really good to this UGA team, the game with LSU was not played flawlessly. Once again, Georgia struggled mightily to handle a full-court press, turning the ball over 16 times last night. The Dawgs host the #10 Gators in Athens on Wednesday in a game that will certainly feature a lot of full-court pressure from Florida.

The victory over LSU puts UGA in a four-way tie at 1-3 with South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Georgia has a very difficult week ahead of them with the aforementioned match-up with the Gators and then a road trip to College Station to play Texas A&M. However, if the Dawgs could steal one of those games, they could put themselves in a position to get back to .500 since the next two would be against Auburn and Carolina.

Funny how a win can serve to restore hope.

Both LSU and Georgia searching for first SEC win

Something special will be on the line when LSU (9-5; 0-3) and Georgia (6-10; 0-3) meet inside Stegeman Coliseum tonight – a conference win.

Neither the Tigers nor the Dawgs have enjoyed their respective SEC schedules thus far, so there may be an air of desperation between these teams in Athens later today as one of them is guaranteed to leave the gym a winner.

Conference play – especially within a power conference like the SEC – can really change the complexity of a team mid-season, and often times it separates the real players from the guys that aren’t quite ready yet. Many teams around the country – not Georgia, of course – enjoy inflated offensive numbers prior to January as the majority of the squads that they face tend to be weaker opponents.

Prior to January 9th, LSU looked as if they might be something of an offensive juggernaut, pouring in over 77 points per game, with four players averaging in double-figures. However, since the start of SEC play the Tigers’ offensive has derailed, posting just 62.7 points a night.

To be fair, UGA is scoring only 55.7 points per conference game – the lowest output in the league.

LSU’s leading scorer – junior Shavon Coleman – was getting 14 points per game through the team’s first 11 contests. His performances in LSU’s three SEC games have been less desirable as Coleman has struggled to score only 7 points a night.

Sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey has been the Tigers’ most dangerous offensive weapon lately, netting almost 16 points per game in conference play. Georgia’s Vincent Williams, who is coming off a career-best 23-point performance at Missouri, will most likely be challenged by Coach Mark Fox to chase Hickey around the court this evening.

The Dawgs (plus Gerald Robinson, Jr.) lost 61-53 to nearly this same LSU team in Baton Rouge last season. In that game, Georgia failed to contain guard Andre Stringer, who sank 4 three-pointers and finished with 18 points. The Dawgs also had trouble handling big man Johnny O’Bryant III in the paint, where he tallied 14 points and 8 boards.

Both of these Bayou Bengal Tiger players will be in Athens tonight, and Georgia has got to find a way to deal with “Johnny O” as he is quite the imposing figure inside at 6’9″ and 262 pounds. O’Bryant is scoring 10.4 ppg this season, though he too has yet to break through in a conference game, accumulating just 18 total points in three games.

Next week’s schedule does not look promising for Georgia – they play Florida at home on Wednesday and then the Dawgs hit the road Saturday to take on Texas A&M in College Station.

A loss to LSU tonight would put this UGA team on a path that most likely ends with the Dawgs being 0-6 in their first six SEC tries.

Despite their slow start, with a 9-5 record the Tigers still have an opportunity to turn their season around.

Georgia’s current situation does not appear to have as much of a silver lining other than the hope that these next 15 games will provide valuable experience to the Dawgs’ younger players.

The last time a UGA basketball team began its conference slate 0-4 was the 2008-2009 season – that team actually got to 0-9 before nabbing a victory, finishing SEC play at 3-13. It was also the last season for coach Dennis Felton, who was fired mid-year after an embarrassing loss at Florida.

Road Woes Continue For Dawgs

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

That’s the sound of the Georgia Bulldogs basketball team reversing into the SEC Tournament.

The Dawgs offense picked up right were it left off in the second half against Kentucky…stumbling.

Georgia got its first field goal against LSU on a Jeremy Price dunk with 14:52 remaining in the first half to put them up 4-2.  After falling behind to the Tigers 2-0, Georgia was able to (slowly) go on a 9-2 run to put them up by 7 points with 12:52 left in the half.

Then LSU coach Trent Johnson switched his team into a zone defense that completely took the Dawgs out of their offense.  The Tigers went on a 12-5 run of their own and tied the game at 14 apiece with 8:17 remaining.

The first half showcased some pretty horrendous shooting by both teams.  Georgia finished the half hitting only 36.4% from the field, but LSU wouldn’t be outdone, knocking down a mere 26.9% from the floor.

The teams went into the break locked up at 20-20.

The second half featured more poor shooting, and Georgia continued to struggle with LSU’s zone defense.  With 7:37 remaining in the game, Travis Leslie had scored only 1 point.  Leslie (along with the other Georgia guards) was struggling to penetrate the Tiger zone and draw defenders off the dribble.

Coach Fox made a nice adjustment with Leslie, moving him down low to the baseline so he could follow the ball – Leslie scored 6 points in the second half (he finished with 7).

Despite the poor offensive play by Georgia, they still had the ball with the game tied 48-48 with under a minute to play.  Dustin Ware brought the ball up the court, and then attempted to make a lob pass to Jeremy Price from well outside the three-point line…the ball sailed out-of-bounds.

LSU junior guard Bo Spencer knocked down a jumper on the next possession to put his Tigers up 50-48 with only 19 seconds left in the game.

The Dawgs moved the ball across half court and then called timeout to set up a play with 11 ticks on the clock.

Georgia in-bounded the ball and got it into Leslie’s hands on the right wing.  It looked like Fox had instructed Leslie to get the ball to Thompkins on the block, but he couldn’t make the entry pass.  Instead, Leslie dumped it to Jeremy Price in the middle of the floor and Price took a turnaround jumper from just inside the three-point line that clanked off the rim.

And the Dawgs dropped another game on the road, making them 0-11 overall and 0-8 in the SEC in games played away from the Steg.

Tasmin Mitchell led the Tigers with 20 points and pulled down 6 rebounds, ending his career at home as a winner.

Georgia finished the game shooting 36.5% from the field, and turned it over 16 times (Travis Leslie led the team with 6).

Trey Thompkins led Georgia with 19 points and 16 rebounds, yet he made only 7 of 23 from the floor.  However, despite Trey’s poor shooting, he was the only Bulldog who looked comfortable with the ball in his hands and taking it to the basket.

For the second straight game Leslie looked a bit out of it on offense, and Ware and McPhee were pretty much non-factors (although to McPhee’s credit he did grab 6 rebounds and dished out 5 assists).

The Dawgs finished the season 5-11 in the SEC and 13-16 overall.  The NIT looks like it is now out of reach.

This was LSU’s second SEC conference win of the season.

The loss to the Tigers leaves Georgia with a lot of questions as they head into their opening round game against Arkansas next Thursday:

With an 0-11 road record, can the Dawgs realistically hope to close out a conference tournament game in Nashville?

Which Travis Leslie will be traveling to the tournament?  Over the past two games, Leslie has made 7 of 22 field goals and scored a total of 15 points.  Georgia cannot expect to go far in the tournament without Leslie’s offense.

What will the team’s confidence level be like riding a two-game losing streak?