Georgia fades down the stretch, loses again to South Carolina

A year ago the Georgia Bulldogs (13-10; 4-6) beat the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-4; 9-1) three times and knocked them out of contention for an NCAA tournament berth.  Today, South Carolina returned the favor, besting the Dawgs 77-75 at the Columbia Life Center on Saturday afternoon.  Any more talk of this Georgia team going to the Big Dance should be put on hold until UGA either wins 6 of its final 8 games, or a tornado is spotted approaching Nashville in early march for the SEC tournament.

Ultimately, Georgia was undone by one of its infamous offensive scoring droughts that have become a staple of Mark Fox’s teams over the past several seasons.  Yante Maten scored a bucket to make it 51-50 Carolina with 11:23 remaining in the game, only to see his team go the next eight and a half minutes without a field goal.  Juwan Parker hit a jumper with 2:50 left to snap the spell, but by then the Dawgs were still trailing 67-60.  Frank Martin put his team into a zone defense during this brutal stretch, and Georgia struggled to adjust when they were no longer able to rely on the J.J. Frazier and Maten two-man game.

The Dawgs also struggled to protect the ball today as they turned it over 15 times with Frazier and Parker leading the way with 5 apiece.  Granted, South Carolina is probably the best defensive team in the conference as they lead the SEC in defensive scoring (63), field goal percentage (39%) and three-point percentage (25%), but for UGA’s offense to completely stall over the final quarter of the game is inexcusable.

Defensively, the Bulldogs failed to close out effectively on the Gamecocks on the perimeter, where South Carolina connected on 11 of 24 from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs once again began the game trying to play Carolina in man defense, and Sindarious Thornwell made them pay as he hit 3 three-pointers in less than 8 minutes to put his team up 14-11.  In Athens last month, Georgia struggled to defend Thornwell and P.J. Dozier one-on-one due to their superior size over the UGA backcourt.  Today, it wasn’t much different as Dozier and Thornwell torched Georgia for 21 and 18, respectively.  When Georgia switched to its 2-3 match-up zone they were able to cover the perimeter better, but SC obviously still got theirs from the outside off of transition plays and offensive rebounds.

Georgia’s abysmal second half was a complete contrast to its first twenty minutes of play.  Prior to the intermission, UGA’s offense was deliberate, pounding the ball inside to Maten, who was able to score 10 points and get both Carolina bigs Silva and Kotar in foul trouble with 2 each.  However, all of that stopped following the intermission as Yante primarily saw double-teams with every touch and it became harder and harder for the guards to dump the ball inside.

The Dawgs were led by Maten and Frazier, who scored 18 apiece.

Georgia has now lost its last 4 SEC contests, and the going isn’t going to get anything but tougher heading into next week when UGA hosts #24 Florida on Tuesday night in Athens before heading to Knoxville next Saturday to take on Tennessee.

 

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Georgia can’t overcome turnovers in loss to South Carolina

For a brief moment the Georgia Bulldogs looked poised to claim its first lead of the second half after Yante Maten buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with only 57 seconds remaining.  Trailing South Carolina 62-61, the Dawgs were just one mere stop from wresting away the advantage from the visiting Gamecocks.  But as luck would have it, Sindarius Thornwell, who had just returned from a six-game suspension, would score on a tip-in from his own miss on the ensuing possession, putting his team back up by 3.  J.J. Frazier turned the ball over the next time down the court and then fouled Hassani Gravett immediately.  Gravett made only one of two from the line, but Frazier forced an awkward three that caromed off the rim, and UGA would go on to lose 67-61.

The final minute of this game exemplified the major issues that plagued this Georgia team throughout the night: poor defense, turnovers and inconsistent offense.  The Dawgs tried to play USC in man defense for much of this game, but I’m not sure that they had the personnel for that strategy to work.  Coach Mark Fox doesn’t have the perimeter players to deal with Thornwell or fellow guard P.J. Dozier.  Both of these guys relentlessly drove the ball to the paint, where Frank Martin’s team notched 38 of its points (to UGA’s 19).  Dozier led all scores with 24 points to go along with 7 rebounds, and Thornwell recorded a double-double, scoring 19 points and snagging 11 rebounds.

Georgia didn’t really have it together on offense tonight either.  The Dawgs made just 36% from the floor and under 31% from beyond the arc.  Coach Fox’s team played incredibly sloppy in this one, turning the ball over 16 times, which led to 18 Gamecock points. UGA began the second half with one of its infamous scoring droughts, netting just 5 points in over 7 minutes of play.  The Dawgs only trailed Carolina 36-34 at the break, but following a Chris Silva Jumper with 12:51 left they found themselves down 48-39.  The free throw line, where UGA connected on 23 of 30 attempts, was the lone bright spot for Georgia, and honestly it kept them in the game down the stretch.

The Dawgs continued to pound the ball inside to Yante Maten, and despite facing multiple double-teams, he kept getting himself to the line.  Maten made 9 of his 13 free throw attempts, though he only shot 33% from the floor.  Yante did record another double-double as he pulled in a team-high 10 rebounds, but he never really got into an offensive rhythm as he constantly found himself surrounded by Gamecock bigs whenever he touched the ball inside.  All this pressure forced Georgia’s leading scorer into 6 turnovers.

Unfortunately, Maten wasn’t the only Dawg to hand the ball over 6 times.  Frazier committed 6 as well and never really got going on offense himself.  Much like Maten, J.J. collected the majority of his points from the charity stripe, where he sunk 9 of 10 attempts.  But Frazier’s efficiency from the field was far worse as he connected on just 30% from the floor and only 1 of his 6 perimeter shots.

The only other UGA player to finish in double-figures was Juwan Parker, who netted 12 points to go along with his 6 rebounds.

This loss was a tough one for Coach Fox’s team for several reasons.   One, it totally sucks the air out of any of the mojo that the Dawgs might have been feeling after that big road win at Auburn last week.  Two, Georgia still hasn’t recorded a solid RPI win.  South Carolina’s RPI was 54 coming into the game, and it would have been UGA’s highest to date had they pulled it off.  Finally, Georgia blew a solid opportunity to begin SEC play at 3-0 with lowly Missouri coming into town this Saturday.  However, now that that’s out the window, the Dawgs will be doing their best to get back above .500 in conference play.

 

Late surge lifts Dawgs over Gamecocks

With their postseason dreams on the ropes and a double-digit halftime lead all but gone, UGA dug in and found a way to win against #25 South Carolina over the final stretch of tonight’s game in Athens.

The Gamecocks, who shot just 21% from the floor before the break, started to knock down shots in the second half; after Duane Notice buried a three from the corner, USC trailed Georgia 50-48 with 6:34 left.

On the ensuing possession, Kenny Gaines tipped in a Michael Edwards miss.  Then he took a Carolina miss the length of the floor and finished over a falling Michael Carrera, putting the Dawgs back up 54-48 with 5:17 remaining.

J.J. Frazier, who played sparingly in the first half due to foul trouble, knocked down two huge three’s during this same time span.  The second one he hit falling into the UGA bench, yet he somehow managed to draw nothing but net, sending the Dawgs up 62-53 with under 2 minutes left in the game.  This shot by Frazier sent the Stegeman crowd into pandemonium, and Georgia won its first game of the year against a ranked opponent, downing the Cocks 69-56 in Athens.

Coach Mark Fox had to be pleased with his team’s defensive effort on the night.  Other than a few lapses at the top of the key in the second half, the Dawgs defended Carolina well, contesting nearly every shot.  The Cocks entered this evening’s contest making more than 44% of their shots from the field, yet UGA limited them to only 31% from the floor.  USC’s 56 point effort tonight was its second-lowest offensive output of the season.  On the year, Frank Martin’s team’s scoring has been incredibly balanced, with five players averaging in double-figures.  However, Sindarius Thornwell and Carrera were the only Gamecocks to finish with over 10 points tonight, scoring 18 and 11, respectively.

The Dawgs certainly were not spectacular on offense, shooting under 39% from the field, but as I mentioned above, Coach Fox’s team made shots when they needed to in this game.  Yante Maten led all UGA scorers with 18 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.  South Carolina’s Mindaugas Kacinas simply couldn’t handle Maten as Yante consistently drove the ball at him and scored on a series of acrobatic shots.

Kenny Gaines finished with 17 points, and Frazier and Charles Mann chipped in 13 and 11, respectively.

This win is easily Georgia’s biggest of the season, and not only because the Gamecocks are ranked in both the AP and Coaches Poll.  In addition to those accolades, Frank Martin’s team is currently sitting with an RPI of 28.

The Dawgs are 12-8 overall and 5-4 in the SEC, and with Tennessee knocking off #20 Kentucky this evening, Georgia has a chance to move into the upper echelon of the SEC standings this Saturday if they can hold serve at home against Auburn (Florida heads to Kentucky and USC visits Texas A&M).   If UGA wants to play any postseason games this year, then they have to put together a bit of a winning streak.

Again, Georgia has Auburn in Athens on Saturday, which is a game the Dawgs should win. Unless, of course, they are peeking ahead at next Tuesday’s prime time matchup in Lexington against Kentucky.

 

 

A big question going into tonight’s SEC Tournament game

South Carolina won its second game of the SEC Tournament in wacky fashion last night, converting three free throws with less than a second on the clock after an ill-advised foul by an Ole Miss guard.

The Cocks’ win sets up a third game between them and the Dawgs, with Carolina owning the regular season sweep over Mark Fox’s team. I couldn’t find any information as to whether South Carolina has ever beaten UGA three times in a season, so if anyone knows please post below.

At the moment, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is projecting Georgia as a 9-seed, and the network’s “Bubble Watch” has the Dawgs as a lock. However, maybe its just my nature as a long-time UGA basketball fan, but I still feel uncomfortable about Georgia’s NCAA Tournament bid should they lose tonight’s game to Frank Martin’s team, which would be UGA’s third loss to a squad with an RPI of 105.

Without further adieu, I pose the following question to some of the Bulldogs’ biggest basketball fans:

Dawgs lose 2nd straight game at home, falling to South Carolina

UGA played arguably its worst first half of the season tonight against South Carolina, and yet the Dawgs had a chance to win this game late in the second half.

After trailing 41-23 at the break, Georgia tied the game at 51 apiece with 4:31 left in the game after a pair of free throws from Yante Maten.

Georgia failed to secure defensive rebounds down the stretch though, and in the end, these lapses ended up doing them in. Mindaugus Kacinas tipped in a missed jumper to give his team a 53-51 lead with only 3:38 remaining.  On the ensuing possession, UGA held the Cocks from scoring on another jump shot, but Kacinas was there once again for the offensive board, which he promptly kicked to teammate Tyrone Johnson.  Johnson immediately buried a three-pointer, giving Carolina a 56-51 advantage.

The Gamecocks secured offensive rebounds on 2 of their next 3 possessions, which led to 3 free throws and eventually a 64-58 road victory.

For Carolina, this win marks just its third SEC road win in nearly three and a half seasons.

Georgia failed to lead once in this contest, and they quickly found themselves down 19-4 less than 10 minutes into the game.  The Dawgs shot just 33% from the floor before the break, and their defense was nonexistent.  In the first half, UGA yielded 7 three-pointers to the Cocks, enabling them to go into the intermission with 41 points – an incredible offensive outburst for a team that entered tonight’s game averaging just 58 points per SEC contest.

Georgia was led offensively by Charles Mann, whose 17 points were instrumental in helping the Dawgs mount a comeback.  However, Mann didn’t get much support as Kenny Gaines was the only other UGA player to finish in double-digits with 11 points.

After laying an egg at home against Auburn last Saturday, I expected the Dawgs to come out with a little more fire than they showed this evening.  Georgia started this game incredibly flat, digging themselves into a huge hole that they ultimately couldn’t escape from.

Coach Mark Fox has to be wondering what kind of damage his team has done to its NCAA tournament resume – something that looked rock solid a week ago.  The Dawgs are now 16-9 overall and 7-6 in SEC play, but they are falling fast in the conference’s standings.

Meanwhile, South Carolina has four SEC wins this season and two of them have come against UGA.

Blemishes now abound on Georgia’s schedule, with losses to SC (2), Auburn, Georgia Tech and Minnesota.  For Coach Fox, it might be time to start hitting the panic button as his team appears to be spiraling downwards, losing 4 of its past 6 games.

Marcus Thornton, who carried this team during the first half of this season, is averaging just 7.5 points a night since returning from his injury, failing to finish in double-figures in any of the last four games.

The Dawgs hit the road Saturday, traveling to Tuscaloosa where they will take on Alabama, a team that is currently 5-7 in league play.  With an RPI of 76, Bama does not offer UGA the opportunity for a quality win; however, a loss to the Tide could certainly be looked upon as another bad loss.

Depleted Dawgs hope to hold off South Carolina

J.J. Frazier took a whack to the noggin in the second half against Auburn last Saturday, and apparently he will miss tonight’s game against South Carolina as he deals with concussion symptoms and what Coach Fox called a “fracture to his orbital bone in his face”.

The problem for Georgia is that Frazier has been their second-leading scorer in conference games at 11.5 points per contest, knocking down nearly 2 three-pointers a game.

Now the Dawgs, who are still without two-guard Juwan Parker – though Fox hinted last weekend that he could be back soon – will be forced to play the Gamecocks with an ultra-thin backcourt.

With the loss of Frazier, UGA only has one regular contributor – Charles Mann – who can bring the ball up the court.

Enter Brandon Young, a 5’10” sophomore point guard who played his high school ball at the Marist School in Atlanta.  To say this guy has played sparely for Coach Fox would be quite the understatement, considering Young has seen the floor for a grand total of 16 minutes in his two seasons in Athens (with only 4 minutes of play this year).

However, without Frazier’s ball-handling services, Young will likely see action tonight as a Kenny Gaines-Taylor Echols backcourt may have trouble dealing with pressure.

Georgia lost the first meeting between these two teams back in January, falling to the Gamecocks 67-50 in Columbia.  Senior Marcus Thornton didn’t make the trip for that contest as he was dealing with concussion symptoms, and it seems that the Dawgs will be playing Carolina short-handed once again.

After Georgia’s devastating home loss to Auburn last Saturday, UGA can ill-afford another bad loss on its NCAA Tournament resume.  With an RPI of 105, South Carolina definitely fits the bill as a “bad loss”, and the Dawgs already have one “bad loss” to Frank Martin’s team this season.

Should they drop another one to the Cocks, UGA’s NCAA dreams may begin to vanish.

Dawgs Coast at Home

On Thursday night, the Georgia Bulldogs (19-9; 8-6) used a zone defense for nearly the entire game in their loss to the Florida Gators.  In Athens on Saturday, the South Carolina Gamecocks deployed the same strategy, showing the Dawgs zone for the full forty minutes.

Georgia picked it apart.

The Bulldogs attacked the zone with precision-like efficiency – knocking down open shots from the wing, getting the ball to Trey Thompkins in the high post (who in turn either scored or found the cutters along the baseline).  Georgia shot 46.0% from the field and nearly 37.0% from beyond the arc.

Thompkins buried a three-pointer with 10:53 left in the first half to put his team up 15-6, and the Gamecocks never recovered.  The Dawgs took a 39-22 lead into the break, and then proceeded to play even-basketball with the Cocks for the remainder of the game – coasting to a 64-48 win.

I was surprised to see Coach Darren Horn keep his team in a zone, especially coming out of the intermission with the Cocks trailing by 17 points.  One would think that he might want to switch to a man-to-man to pick up the tempo, but that wasn’t the case.

Trey Thompkins led the Dawgs with 20 points and 8 rebounds, his first 20-point performance since the Florida game on January 25th.  Trey also turned in another great defensive effort, recording 3 shot blocks and 7 defensive boards – he now has 18 blocked shots over the past 8 games.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. struggled again on offense, going 3 for 10 from the floor and finishing with just 8 points and 6 turnovers.  He did however, shut down Carolina’s Bruce Ellington once again, limiting him to 7 points and only 3 field goals (on 12 attempts).  As good as a freshman campaign as Ellington has had, you can be sure he does not want to see Robinson on the court again this season.

Jeremy Price played a very productive 24 minutes for Coach Mark Fox, scoring 14 points on a barrage of dunks and snagging 6 boards.  Price had an emphatic dunk-back on an offensive rebound in the first half, and then proceeded to dazzle the Stegeman crowd with his rendition of Aaron Rodgers’ “Championship Belt”.  As entertaining as this spectacle was to see live, let’s hope it never happens again (Price was lucky not to get a technical foul).

Travis Leslie had the most complete game of any Bulldog though, finishing with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.  Leslie’s point totals can sometimes sneak up on you, but he has now gone for 15+ points in nine conference games this season.

It was reassuring to see the Bulldogs take a lesser opponent (South Carolina) and beat them soundly as opposed to letting them hang around (Auburn) – especially on their home floor.  The Dawgs are now tied with the Kentucky Wildcats for third place in the SEC East (Tennessee was upset at home by Mississippi State).

If the Dawgs can take care of business on Wednesday night against LSU, they will get to the 20-win plateau as well as put themselves in a great position to earn an at-large bid into this year’s NCAA tournament.