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.

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.

Missouri drills Georgia 68-56 in Columbia

DTPGBajVQAQZFGU.jpg-large.jpegThe Georgia Bulldogs (11-4, 2-2 SEC) offense took the night off in Columbia last night against the Missouri Tigers.  The Dawgs’ man defense was strong for the first 20 minutes as they stayed in front of Mizzou and limited the Tigers to just one shot (most of the time).  Georgia held Missouri, a team averaging 10 three-pointers a night, to just 1 prior to the break. When the Dawgs returned from the locker room following the intermission, however, Coach Fox’s team forgot to bring their defense with them.  When a team can’t score, it must rely on its defense.  If that team can’t defend either, then that’s trouble; and last evening, that was Georgia.

UGA basketball strategy under Coach Mark Fox is fairly simple: hard-nosed defense along with controlled tempo offense with a lot of touches inside for the bigs.  On Wednesday, Georgia didn’t really follow either of those scripts.

Offensively, the Dawgs just weren’t themselves.  Rather than feeding the ball into its bigs, UGA opted to settle for outside shots.  The result: Georgia shot just 3 of 10 from beyond the arc, and the Dawgs scored only 10 points inside prior to the intermission (UGA hit 7 of 21 3PTers in the game). The Dawgs finished this contest with just 20 points in the paint, which is one of this team’s lowest outputs in that category this season.

Yante Maten had a particularly off night – he didn’t even convert a field goal before halftime and ended up with only 9 points in the game.  The crazy thing was Mizzou didn’t even double Maten every time he got touches; Tiger freshman Jontay Porter made life extremely difficult for Maten as he caused him to take forced looks and miss inside. Conversely, Porter notched a double-double himself with 15 points and 10 boards.

However, Yante’s bound to have an off night every once in a while, and when he does Fox needs other players to step up – that did not happen last night.  Turtle Jackson and Tyree Crump were the only Dawgs to finish in double-figures as they scored 10 apiece.  Juwan Parker (1-5) and Jordan Harris (0-4) combined for only 2 points on a 1 for 9 performance.  Both Rayshaun Hammonds and Derek Ogbeide had fairly forgettable games as they notched 7 points and 6 points, respectively.

After witnessing how fluid Georgia played last Saturday in its blowout of Alabama, it was uncanny how rigid they looked last night.  Against Bama, the Dawgs made the extra pass and found open shooters; they pounded the ball inside to their bigs.  Georgia finished that game with 13 team assists; they could only muster 8 assists on Wednesday.

The most frustrating part about this loss, though, had to be the complete lack of effort that UGA showed on the defensive end during the game’s final 20 minutes; it was vintage “The UMass game” from earlier this season.  Georgia’s bigs – Mike Edwards in particular – appeared as though they had never been asked to help guard an on-ball screen.  The whole team was disinterested in getting back on defense during Missouri’s transition offense, which resulted in numerous uncontested fast break points for the Tigers.  After hitting only 1 three in the first half, Mizzou hit 4 after the break.  The Tigers shot over 57% in the game’s final 20 minutes after making only 26% from the floor in the first half – getting a lot of wide open lay ups and dunks will certainly help bolster a team’s field goal percentage, though.

Despite all this doom and gloom, it should be noted that Georgia had a 23-20 lead at halftime.  Mizzou opened the second half with a 13-5 run, however, as they seized momentum back from UGA with 16:22 left and the Tigers leading 33-25 on a layup by Jordan Geist, who scored 10 points on the night (Mizzou had 4 players finish in double-figures).

Georgia made a run at the Tigers with a little less than 10 minutes remaining as they went on a 7-0 run, but Mizzou extinguished any hopes that the Dawgs held regarding a comeback as they responded with a 15-4 run themselves that was capped off by a bucket by Kevin Puryear that made it 57-44 with 6:01 left. The game was over.

After just playing a game in Columbia, the Dawgs will take on a team FROM Columbia this Saturday when Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks roll into town.  Considering last night’s debacle, I’d say the Dawgs need to win this one pretty bad to even up their record on the week and to get themselves over .500.  Personally, I was hoping for a big road win last night to help soften the heartache from the end of the National Championship game on Monday, but alas, the hangover continues.

Dawgs bounce back at home with a 71-66 win over Mizzou

 

Hopefully during the postgame handshakes Coach Fox made sure to thank the Missouri assistant that started all the fracas on the court as Georgia (10-5) and Mizzou (5-9) headed into the locker rooms at halftime.  The scuffle fired up a Stegeman crowd that had been lulled to sleep as UGA played an incredibly uninspiring first half. The Dawgs returned to the court reinvigorated following the intermission, and they certainly fed off of the energy coming from a loud and exhuberent Georgia student section.

Georgia, who trailed the Tigers 26-20 at the break, opened up the second half with some full-court pressure and a sense of urgency.  The result: UGA turned Mizzou over 5 times in the first 6 minutes, and had a 39-32 lead after Pape Diatta capped off a 19-6 run with a beautiful left-handed reverse layup.

The Dawgs backed out of the press, though, and Georgia’s defense got lackadaisical.  The Bulldogs allowed Terrance Phillips, who led all Tiger scorers with 20 points, to bury 3 of his 5 three’s after the break.  By the 7:20 mark, Mizzou had taken the lead back from UGA following a free throw by K.J. Walton, making the score 52-51 in favor of the Tigers.

J.J. Frazier, however, took over in the second half, scoring 14 of his 16 points and snatching a team-high 5 steals.  Two of Frazier’s steals came back to back and proved critical down the stretch as he converted one into a layup and another into a mid-range jumper.  J.J.’s thievery gave his team a 62-54 advantage with 5:23 left in the game, and following a dagger from beyond the arc by Pape Diatta the Dawgs had a commanding 65-54 lead with just a little over 4 minutes remaining.

As exciting as the second half turned out to be for both the UGA team and its fans, the first half showcased the worst twenty minutes that this team has played all year.  Georgia managed just 2 field goals in the game’s first 12 minutes against a Missouri team that entered this game with an RPI of 263 and a loss to Lipscomb under its belt.  The Dawgs shot 33% from the floor and just 17% from beyond the arc as they tried to shoot over the top of Missouri’s 2-3 zone defense.  Much like South Carolina, Mizzou defenders swarmed around Yante Maten whenever he touched the ball inside.  Maten didn’t handle the extra attention well as he committed 4 of his team’s 12 turnovers prior to the intermission (UGA had 20 turnovers on the afternoon).  Georgia’s other leading scorer, J.J. Frazier, had just 2 points on 2 field goal attempts as he played as timid of a half offensively as I can remember.

But enough of the negatives. Even though this Tiger team will probably reside in the SEC cellar this year, this was a game that Georgia had to have and they got it.  Frazier shot it 50% from the floor, making it just the 5th time this year that he has hit that mark in a game.  While he missed both his three-point attempts, J.J. knocked down several mid to long-range jumpers which might help to restore his confidence.

Juwan Parker, who has scored in double-digits in all three of the conference games this year, finished with 11 points and 6 rebounds.  More importantly, though, is that the junior seems to have found his shot as he is hitting over 52% from the field in SEC contests.

Pape Diatta provide a huge spark off the bench for Coach Fox, scoring 12 points to go along with 5 boards.  I’m not sure what exactly Diatta has to do to steal more of Kenny Paul Geno’s minutes, but hopefully today he made a strong enough case to his coach.

Yante Maten just missed another double-double as he netted 17 points and snagged 9 rebounds, though his turnovers were quite unfortunate.

The future does not look bright for the Dawgs next week as they have a pair of road matchups with Ole Miss and Florida.

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.