Quick reaction: UGA’s 2nd half defense prevails

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Just days after giving up 115 points to Alabama, Georgia’s (13-8, 6-8) defense carried it in a 80-70 win over #20 Mizzou. Toumani Camara, who’s made under 30% of his three-point attempts this season, buried a pair of triples in the first half to start this game. Justin Kier, who’d missed his previous 8 three-point attempts leading up to this contest, hit both his attempts from that spot tonight en route to a team high 16 points. Bizzaro world? Nope. Just Georgia basketball.

After an evenly played first half that saw Mizzou head into the locker room with a 37-33 advantage, Georgia had a brutal start coming out of the intermission. The Dawgs opened up the second half with 3 turnovers and a miss, and before 3 minutes had transpired the Tigers lead had ballooned to 46-33. Tom Crean put in Jaxon Etter and Andrew Garcia with the hopes that they could provide a spark off the bench, and those two did just that as they combined for 11 points over the next 6 minutes which brought Georgia to within a bucket.

Georgia’s defensive intensity when Etter, Garcia and K.D. Johnson are on the floor is infectious, and ultimately it helps to facilitate offense for the Dawgs. After committing just 2 turnovers prior to the break, Mizzou coughed the ball up 11 times in the final 20 minutes and those errors led to 9 Georgia points. The Dawgs held the Tigers without a field goal for over 4 minutes down the final stretch of this contest, which allowed Georgia to turn a 66-64 lead into a 78-64 edge; Tom Crean’s team essentially closed out the game with its defense. Let that sink in for a moment.

In all fairness to Mizzou, they were playing without big man Jeremiah Tillman, who is unfortunately dealing with a death in the family. Tillman is a huge part of Coach Martin’s gameplan as he is netting over 13 points and grabbing more than 7 boards in SEC play.

Still, Georgia’s perimeter defenders did a superb job of keeping Martin’s backcourt stars in check. Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith entered this game averaging nearly 29 points combined a night; yet against Georgia, these two mustered just 20 points between them on an unforgettable 8 of 23 performance from the floor.

If you are trying to figure out this UGA team, best of luck. Despite losing leading scorers Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds from last year’s squad, the Dawgs have now won more SEC games (6) than last season. At the risk of becoming repetitive, UGA’s defense, which is the worst scoring defense in the conference, took over the second half against Mizzou and won this game.

Missouri brings Georgia back down to earth in 64-39 thrashing

The Georgia Bulldogs (11-19, 2-15) got destroyed by a Missouri Tiger team that entered last night’s game with just 2 more conference wins than the Dawgs, on Senior Night, nonetheless. After earning just its second SEC win of the season on the road in dramatic fashion against NCAA tournament-hopeful Florida, the Dawgs returned home on Wednesday to play arguably one of the worst games of basketball in the history of Stegeman Coliseum. How does THAT happen? My only surmise, as ridiculous as it sounds, is that Georgia could not handle its success of winning, despite the fact that it’s only happened twice, and the Dawgs entered this contest with the expectation that they would win. If anyone has any other theories, please share them below.

This game was nearly unwatchable. After more than 5 minutes of play, the score was still merely 2-2. The outside shooting was just atrocious as Missouri and Georgia combined to miss their first 25 three-point attempts.

UGA’s offense looked stagnant the entire night. The Dawgs did WAY too much dribbling and standing around. Tom Crean preaches playing fast and constant movement, but on Wednesday he was coaching statues. By halftime, Georgia had managed just 14 points on a 23% shooting effort that included too many selfish looks from numerous Bulldog players.

The second half was just a continuation in mediocrity for the Dawgs. Following the intermission, Georgia went almost 9 minutes without a field goal, and it wasn’t until JoJo Toppin connected on the first triple of his career that the Dawgs ended that drought. Unfortunately, by that point Missouri’s 9-point halftime advantage had blossomed to 38-19, and the route was officially on as the Tigers offense had begun to awaken.

There’s probably more that I could write about or discuss regarding last night’s game, but honestly, it was just so pitiful, that I’m kind of at a loss for words. The only silver-lining from Wednesday is the hilarity in the fact that these two teams could rematch in the first round of the SEC tournament next week if the Tigers remain a game behind Texas A&M.

Eye-popping stats

  • Missouri had 50 rebounds to Georgia’s 28 (the Tigers also had 16 offensive boards)
  • Missouri shot 45% from the floor compared to Georgia’s 25%
  • UGA did not have one player finish in double-figures
  • Missouri had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 14

Box score:

Georgia spoils return of Michael Porter, Jr. in 62-60 win over Missouri

The final stretch of this game lasted a lifetime.  After building up a 55-46 lead with 8:24 left, Georgia (18-14) scored only 3 more field goals the rest of the contest as Missouri’s defense put the clamps on the Dawgs. It felt like things were slipping away.  Mizzou couldn’t finish a layup to take the lead with Georgia up 61-60.  Rayshaun Hammonds snagged the Tiger miss and was immediately fouled, but the freshman only hit 1 of 2 from the line.  Then, Claxton seemingly saved UGA’s season with an offensive board off the Hammonds miss, but unfortunately he couldn’t convert either of his free throws.

I’d seen this movie before. I knew this wouldn’t end well for Georgia. With 7 seconds left, Mizzou in-bounded the ball and got it exactly where they wanted it – in the hands of a wide-open Kassius Robertson, who’s made over 43% of his three-point shots this year.  This was the moment where Georgia was supposed to lose.

Instead, Robertson’s shot went long and the ball was batted around a few times before time expired.  Dawgs win.

Georgia advances in a game that not many people had them pegged winning.  For starters, it was basically a home game for the Tigers.  Also, in case you’ve been living in a cave the past 48 hours, freshman phenom Michael Porter, Jr. returned to take on Georgia this afternoon. He scored 12 points, but it came at the expense of a 5 for 17 shooting performance from the floor.  After not playing a minute since the first game of the year, Porter entered today’s game and took more shots than any other Tiger player.  His presence obviously altered the chemistry of Coach Martin’s team. Mizzou guards Robertson and Jordan Barnett, who combined for 30 points a night this season, scored a total of 10 points between them this afternoon.

The Porter brother that proved to be the biggest thorn in Georgia’s side was Jontay, who scored 20 points (12 of which came from beyond the arc).  I shudder to think how badly their high school team must have throttled the competition in Columbia the past few years.

Just an all around gutty effort by the Bulldogs.  Mizzou jumped on Georgia early as they built a 10-0 lead in a little over 5 minutes of game time.  UGA failed to wither, though. Rather, the Dawgs responded with a 19-2 run of their own and found themselves leading 19-12 with under 7 minutes left in the half following a jumper by Teshaun Hightower.  Georgia would hold Mizzou to just 24% from the floor prior to the break, and the Dawgs headed to the locker room with a 33-24 lead.

Hightower once again provided the Dawgs with a big spark off the bench.  The freshman scored 11 of his 13 points before the intermission; he also hauled in 7 rebounds.  Hightower is unafraid to take the ball to the basket, and it’s been a refreshing sight to see him scoring around the rim as UGA hasn’t gotten much of that kind of production from its backcourt this season.

Despite being hounded with double-teams all game, Yante Maten still logged a double-double as he scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.  Maten’s ability to draw contact on the inside was a big factor in both of Mizzou’s starting bigs – Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tillmon – fouling out.  Yante did struggle offensively over the final 2 minutes as he missed all 3 of his field goal attempts, but the Georgia big man did knock down a huge jumper from the wing on an in-bounds play that gave UGA a 61-57 advantage with 3:29 left.

Up next for Georgia is Kentucky, a team that Mark Fox has never beaten outside of Athens.  Should UGA manage another upset on Friday, they will certainly take a big step closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

mizz-ugauga-mizz

 

SEC Tournament: the win over Vandy and looking ahead to Mizzou

Quick recap

A review of Vanderbilt’s first 7 possessions last night: miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss and miss.  Let’s just say that Georgia (17-14) set the tone on defense early on in this one. Before the game, Juwan Parker highlighted that his team had been focused on defending the perimeter better than they did in Nashville against the Commodores.  In the first meeting between these two teams, Vandy knocked down 11 triples.  Last night, the ‘Dores had just 2 three-pointers by halftime, and they would finish with only 8 (on 23 attempts), which was below their season SEC average of 10 per night.  Georgia held Vandy to under 28% from the floor heading into the intermission.

UGA’s defensive intensity carried over to the offense side of the ball as well. The Dawgs looked like a well-oiled machine from the opening tip.  When Vandy showed man, Georgia pounded the ball inside to its bigs, who either finished at the rim or found open shooters on the perimeter.  If the ‘Dores went into zone, UGA calmly worked the ball around until they located the soft spots.  Where was this team all season?  Georgia hit 5 of its 9 shots from beyond the arc, shot 53% from the floor and dished out 10 team assists before the intermission.  The Dawgs committed just 2 turnovers prior to the break, and they had six different players with at least 4 points as they headed to the locker room with a comfortable 43-22 advantage.

Losing big leads in the second half of SEC games has sort of been a mantra for this UGA team all year, but the Dawgs were having none of that last night. Vandy hit a couple three’s coming out of the half and seemed to be making a run at UGA as they cut the lead to 43-29 with 18:15 left, but Georgia quickly squashed those hopes by responding with a 14-4 run of its own that bolstered the Dawgs’ advantage back up to 57-33 with over 13 minutes remaining. Coach Mark Fox’s team would go into cruise control mode for the remainder of the game, and Georgia earned a 78-62 first round victory.

Players that need highlighting

Maybe Yante Maten needed that smack to the jaw from Tennessee’s Grant Williams to help snap him out of last week’s funk when the Georgia big shot just 10 of 33 from the floor in two games.  Against Vandy, Maten embodied the SEC Player of the Year as he scored 25 points on a 9 for 12 effort from the floor.  He knocked down a pair of three’s in the first half, and he handled the Vandy double-teams efficiently all game as he either spun away from the doubling defender or found an open teammate.  The Georgia senior, who usually displays a range of emotions when he’s got things cooking on offense, appeared rather focused (almost business-like) in the win over the ‘Dores.  Yante looked like a player that is not ready for his college basketball career to end just yet.

Coach Mark Fox got big minutes from two of his freshman last night: Rayshaun Hammonds and Teshaun Hightower.  In the loss at Vandy, Hammonds had a forgettable game in which he went 0 for 5 from the floor and struggled to scored inside against smaller Commodore defenders.  Last night, however, the freshman had no trouble taking advantage in the paint against Riley LaChance and any of the other Vandy guards that were stuck in a mismatch against him.  Hammonds finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds, and his best bucket came off of an attempted double by Vandy that he avoided by spinning quickly to his left and finishing off the glass.  Hammonds has now scored in double-figures in 5 of the last 8 games, and he is starting to live up to some of the hype that followed him from high school.

For whatever reason, Teshaun Hightower logged only 1 minute of play at Tennessee last weekend, which was a head-scratcher considering he played arguably his best game of the season the game before in Athens against TAMU.  Last night, though, Fox gave the freshman 21 minutes of court time, and Hightower took advantage as he scored 13 points and dished out 6 assists.  His aggression and size at the point position gives Georgia a guard that can drive the ball into the paint and attack the rim.  Hightower also knocked down a pair of triples, which is an area of his game that has improved dramatically over the course of the year.  He began the season just 1 of 11 from beyond the arc in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but he’s now made nearly 38% of his three-point attempts in SEC games.  Hightower is giving this Georgia team something it desperately needs: another outside scoring threat.

Up next: Mizzou

The return of future NBA lottery pick Michael Porter, Jr. dominated all story lines yesterday surrounding this tournament. Since getting injured 2 minutes into the opening game against Iowa State, the freshman hasn’t played again. After the game last evening, Coach Fox joked that he had seen so little of Porter that he wasn’t even sure what position he played.

This game definitely presents quite a challenge for Georgia.  They already lost to Mizzou at their place earlier in the year, and this contest is being played in St. Louis, which is in Missouri’s backyard, so this game will have a home atmosphere feel to it for the Tigers.  Porter’s return only adds to the hype.

However, I do feel that Porter coming back does give UGA a slight advantage. He’s been practicing for 2 weeks now, but practice is WAY different than a game, just ask Allen Iverson.  As good as he may be, there’s no way his return doesn’t disrupt Mizzou’s chemistry.  How aggressive will he be? Will he press to score points? How will the guys who have stepped up and played in his absence respond to their reduced roles?  All of these questions are good things for UGA.  Couple those uncertainties with the fact that Georgia has already played and won on the tournament court, and I think the Dawgs have an outside shot at spoiling Porter’s return to college basketball.

Dawgs complete season sweep of Missouri

The Georgia Bulldogs (10-6, 3-3) had seemingly delivered the knockout punch midway through the second half on Wednesday when J.J. Frazier knocked down a three-pointer to cap off a 17-0 run that sent the Dawgs up 50-34 with a little under 10 minutes left to play.

Missouri managed to claw its way back, though, thanks in part to 7 UGA turnovers over the game’s final 9 minutes.   The Tigers actually had it as close as 56-53 with less than a minute remaining, but thanks to four clutch free throws from Frazier, who is 5th in the conference in that category, Georgia was able to sneak out of Columbia with a 60-57 victory.

Coach Mark Fox got a monster game out of Yante Maten, who finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks in 36 minutes of play.  Maten’s offense was steady the entire game, giving his team a solid scoring option all night, even as some of his teammates struggled.

J.J. Frazier also shot the ball well, knocking down 5 of 9 shots from the floor en route to 16 points to go along with 7 assists and 6 boards.

Seniors Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann floundered again offensively (though Mann floundered much harder), scoring 11 and 5 points, respectively.  The two combined for just 6 of 22 from the field, and Mann continues to  relentlessly drive the ball to the basket to no avail.

The Dawgs packed up and carried their poor shooting from the weekend onto the plane and into Columbia on Wednesday, opening the first 20 minutes of play by shooting 31% from field and 1 for 11 from three-point land.  For the third straight game, the Bulldogs posted a season-low halftime scoring output, with 22 tonight against the Tigers.

Georgia shot it better after the intermission, however, finishing the game at 39% as a team.  But, one would have hoped to see a little more consistency from the outside after last Saturday’s abysmal performance.

Missouri was led on offense by Namon Wright and Terrence Phillips, who each scored 12 this evening for the Tigers.

While SEC road wins are nice, this one does little to improve Georgia’s postseason aspirations.  The best takeaway UGA can draw from this game is that they avoided a bad loss to a Mizzou team that boasts a whopping RPI of 146.  The best thing that can be said at this point about the Bulldogs tournament resume is that they do not have any bad losses, with the defeat to Ole Miss (75) earlier this month being the worst.

But at some point, Georgia, a team that entered tonight’s contest with an RPI of 74, must earn some quality wins.  Winning games that it should – Arkansas (86) at home this Saturday – is no longer going to cut it for Coach Fox’s team if they hope to be dancing this season.

The Dawgs have games remaining against Baylor, South Carolina (twice), Kentucky and Florida, all teams currently in the RPI Top 25.  Considering that UGA’s best win to date came against Georgia Tech (58), I would say that Georgia probably needs to win 3 of the 5 aforementioned games to put themselves in position for an at-large bid.

The 34-point home loss to Texas A&M was devastating.

The Bulldogs have to put together a decent little winning streak.

 

Dawgs tame Tigers, improve to 1-1 in conference play

The Georgia Bulldogs (8-4) rebounded nicely from their loss last Saturday to the Florida Gators, blasting the Missouri Tigers (7-7) at home in Athens on Tuesday night.  The Dawgs didn’t waste any time either, jumping out to a 10-0 lead following a Yante Maten basket before even 3 minutes had the chance to expire.

Mizzou managed to trim he UGA lead to 24-18 with 7:30 left before the break after a pair of three’s from Wes Clark. However, this mini-run came at a time when Coach Fox had all but one starter on the floor.  He immediately sent in his starting five and 3 minutes later the Dawgs lead had blossomed to 33-20.

Georgia played great offensively tonight, though some of that was due to the Tigers’ soft defense.  Mizzou looked as if it was moving in slow motion compared to the Gators’ hectic defensive style of play.

However, the Dawgs do deserve some credit for their productivity.  Georgia shot a robust 55% from the floor and an even better 58% from three-point land.  In addition, UGA shared the ball incredibly well, dishing out 19 team assists.

Georgia had four of its starters finish in double-figures, with J.J. Frazier leading the way with 16 points.

Yante Maten, who had 15 points and 6 boards on the night, scored 13 of those in the first half.  Maten was unstoppable from the start, and with about 12 minutes left before the intermission he was outscoring the Tigers 11-10 on his own.   Had Georgia not been coasting so much in the second half, Maten could have easily gone for 20+ in this one.

Senior Charles Mann had a nice comeback game, scoring 14 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists.  Mann hit 2 of his 3 three-point attempts against Mizzou, and he is now making over 45% of his three’s on the season – although, he’s only shot 11 of them.

Ultimately though, Missouri didn’t have an answer for anything UGA was doing.  They couldn’t even begin to wrap their minds around how to deal with Maten, and on top of that, Georgia was stroking the ball extremely well from beyond the arc.

Not to take away from Coach Fox’s team, but this Missouri team is very young and they don’t shoot very well, hitting just 35% from the floor and less than 16% from the perimeter in tonight’s contest.  The Dawgs played pretty well defensively, but the Tigers weren’t much of a threat, missing a number of close shots around the rim.

This 77-59 home win evens Georgia’s SEC record at 1-1, with a road matchup against Ole Miss on the horizon.  While this game is going to be taking place outside Athens, the Rebels play Bama at home on Thursday evening, meaning that they will be dealing with a quick turnaround in order to prepare for the Dawgs.

Georgia hits the road to take on another ranked team

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-9; 0-2) failed their first SEC road test of the season against Florida.

Epically.

If the Dawgs have not figured out a way to move the ball against a full-court-trap press defense, then they could be in for another drubbing on Wednesday night in Columbia, Missouri when they go up against #16 Mizzou Tigers (12-3; 1-1).

Mizzou caught a tough break last week when senior forward and leading-scorer Laurence Bowers went down with a knee injury. Bowers, who was putting up 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds a night, missed his team’s game at Ole Miss last Saturday because of the knee, and his Tiger squad went down 64-49 to the Rebel Black Bears.

He is expected to miss Wednesday night’s game as well.

Though Bowers will certainly be sorely missed, Mizzou runs through junior point guard Phil Pressey, a Wooden Award watch-list member who is averaging 13.4 points, 7.4 assists and 3.4 boards per game. Pressey is a tough match-up because of his quickness, and he enjoys getting his teammates around him involved in the offense.

This Mizzou team is extremely deep, and Georgia fans may recognize some of their players from previous UGA basketball games in which they were wearing different uniforms.

Junior wingman Ernest Ross, who is scoring just under 10 points a game, transferred to Missouri from Auburn. Ross averaged over 13 points a contest in his second season at Auburn, including a 30-point effort in an overtime loss in Athens on February 5, 2011.

For anyone that made it to the Steg to watch Georgia play Pepperdine at the tail end of 2009, you may recall senior (then a sophomore) guard Keion Bell, a high-flying athlete who netted nearly 19 points per game as a member of the Waves. Bell has become a starter for Mizzou this year, where he is scoring 8.2 ppg.

So while the Tigers will be playing short-handed on Wednesday against the Dawgs without Bowers, they still have a strong line-up with guys like Ross and Bell, who were both the stars at their respective former schools.

A loss to Missouri would mark the second-straight season in which UGA began the conference basketball schedule 0-3.

The Tigers should be in a feisty mood following the beatdown that they received from Mississippi, and I anticipate that Coach Frank Haith will have his team prepared to play with a lot of intensity.

Georgia is coming off of a pair of losses in Florida and Missy State, but the question remains if the Dawgs have the firepower to play up and down for 40 minutes with a team of Missouri’s calibre.