Dawgs end 2018 on a high note with a 91-72 win over UMass

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A year ago, UMass (7-6) bested Georgia (8-4) 72-62 in Amherst in a game in which the Minutemen hit 12 three-pointers. In that game, UMass blew the doors off UGA from the start and went into the intermission with a commanding 43-24 advantage.

Tom Crean’s team was having none of that business in Athens this evening. UMass hung around for a bit in the first half and kept things moderately close, but for the most part the Dawgs handled the Minutemen with relative ease in a game that Georgia led the entire way.

Georgia’s defensive pressure and length frustrated the Minutemen. Sure, Luwane Pipkins scored 22 points, but he shot just 7 of 20 from the floor, and he missed on all 8 of his three-point attempts. Pipkins scored 10 points prior to the intermission, and he looked as if he could get to the rim whenever he wanted. Turns out, however, it didn’t matter because he was the only player on UMass capable of threatening the Dawgs. Unlike last year’s game, UMass made only 4 triples against Georgia in this one, and they shot just 18% in doing so.

The Minutemen attempted to ramp up the tempo in the second half with some full-court pressure, but UGA seemed unphased as the Dawgs simply let their 6’11” center, Nicolas Claxton, bring the ball up the court. Problem solved. I’m still not really sure of the intent of the UMass press since it didn’t seem to affect the Dawgs in the slightest.

Georgia took a 43-32 lead into the half after Rayshaun Hammonds sunk an off-balanced triple from the corner with time winding down. After making less than 29% of this three-point attempts a year ago, Hammonds is now shooting over 46% from beyond the arc on the year. He definitely looks much more comfortable playing on the wing this year; too many possessions last season Hammonds was forced to work off the block, which may not be the most effective spot for him to receive the ball. Hammonds is definitely more a stretch 4 or even a 3 rather than a traditional big, and the sophomore looked the part this evening as he finished tonight’s game with 18 points to go along with 8 boards.

I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I cannot get over how much Nicolas Claxton continues to get better and better as the year progresses. As mentioned above, he’s now bringing the ball up on the press break. Claxton can guard every position on the court; he got isolated on Pipkins in the second half, and managed to not only keep the speedy point guard in front of him, but Claxton just went ahead and blocked his three-point attempt. The Slim Reaper led Georgia with 20 points and 11 rebounds en route to ANOTHER double-double (that’s 6 on the season), and he’s easily been the best player on the court in all three of UGA’s recent victories.

Georgia closes out 2018 with wins over Georgia Tech and UMass, and the Dawgs are really just one meltdown of a second half away from being on a six-game win streak. Claxton isn’t the only one improving; the Dawgs as a team are getting better. Like Hammonds, Tyree Crump is also converting more of his perimeter attempts this season. Today, Crump scored 14 points on a 3 for 5 effort from beyond the arc, and he is hitting over 40% of his three-point shots on the season.

UGA opens up SEC play this Saturday in Knoxville. With the start of the conference slate, everything is about to get more difficult for Georgia. Teams are going to apply tons of pressure to UGA’s backcourt in an effort to exploit the Dawgs’ lack of a true point guard. Georgia is going to struggle, but they are also going to surprise some people.

I’m super excited to see these potential matchups on Saturday: Grant Williams/Claxton and Admiral Schofield/Hammonds. A month ago, I would have assumed the Vols would blow Georgia out in this one. Now, I’m not so sure.

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Quick reaction to Georgia’s 72-62 loss to UMASS

The Georgia Bulldogs (7-2) got a big-time reality check in Amherst on Saturday courtesy of the Massachusetts Minutemen (6-5).  After building some momentum heading into final exams with wins over St. Mary’s, Marquette and Winthrop, Georgia laid an egg and suffered a 72-62 loss to a .500 team with an RPI of 183.  The Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit this afternoon as this one definitely qualifies as a “bad loss”.

UMASS went all Clubber Lang on Georgia from the start, jumping out to an 8-0 lead that quickly blossomed to 13-2 and then 24-7.  The Dawgs appeared disinterested in guarding the perimeter as they allowed the Minutemen, a team averaging 7.6 three’s a night, to hit 8 three-pointers in the first half (and finish with 12 on the night).  Luwane Pipkins, who scores a little over 18 ppg, was unstoppable in the first half as he scored 12 points on an array of three’s and off-balanced shots.

UMASS’s offensive onslaught left the Dawgs a bit shell-shocked, and in turn Georgia tried to press to much offensively to catch up, which led to a handful of bad looks by Coach Fox’s team.  Yante Maten, who finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds, scored 14 before the break on a 7 for 12 shooting performance; the rest of his team made only 3 of their 19 attempts from the floor.  The result: Georgia trailed 43-24 at halftime.

The Dawgs opened up the second half with a 12-5 run that cut the UMASS lead to 48-36.  Even better, Georgia found themselves in the bonus with over 15 minutes remaining in the game.  The Dawgs appeared poised to work themselves back into this one.  However, UGA only attempted 8 free throws for the remainder of the afternoon.

Even though the Dawgs were down by double-digits or more for nearly 37 minutes of this game, the real dagger came with a little under 8 minutes remaining.  At the time, UMASS led 60-47 until Pipkins buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock expiring to push the Minutemen advantage to 63-47.  That shot seemed to take the air out of any hopes that Coach Fox’s team might have held regarding a late-game comeback.

Heading into this game, Georgia seemed to be on the up and up, which is probably why I feel like I have so many questions regarding what transpired today inside the Mullins Center.  I will sit them below:

Why did Jordan Harris, who has been used sparingly at best so far this season, play 17 minutes in the second half?  Harris shot a woeful 1 for 8 from the floor, yet Fox stuck with him for nearly the entire half.  Mark Fox’s substitution patterns are typically rapid and ongoing, but Harris somehow managed to avoid leaving the floor despite playing rather poorly.  The only reason I can see for Fox keeping him on the court is that he felt Harris needed the exercise.

-Why was Yante Maten assigned the task of defending Rashaan Holloway?  At over 300 pounds, Holloway was an absolute load to deal with in the paint.  He used his width to pound Maten inside as he scored 12 points in just 21 minutes of play (the big fella had to deal with some foul trouble).  Derek Ogbeide, who only had 1 personal foul, played only 2 minutes after the intermission.  It seems to me that he would have been more suited to bang with the mammoth Holloway, and Yante might have been less winded down the stretch if hadn’t had to work so hard on the defensive side of the ball.

-Why was Tyree Crump left on the bench?  Tyree Crump is a scorer, pure and simple.  Georgia shot under 36% from the floor today, and they desperately needed an offensive spark from the bench.  Crump even went so far as to provide that spark late in the second half when he entered the game and sunk consecutive three-pointers to make it a 10-point game.  UGA got a steal on the next possession and Crump turned it over trying to force a pass into the lane, which resulted in him being promptly yanked by Coach Fox. Tyree finished the game with 8 points in just 10 minutes.  I’m not sure what Crump does that irks Fox so much, but he’s going to need him on the floor to put the ball in the basket this season or Georgia’s going to lose more games that it shouldn’t.

-Why did freshman Teshaun Hightower only log a minute of play?  Hightower seemed to be establishing himself as a reliable backup point guard to Turtle Jackson prior to the 11-day layoff, but he barely saw the floor in this one.  The freshman’s strengths seem to be defense (because of his length at 6’4″) and his willingness to attack the basket, both qualities that could have been used against UMASS today.  He air-balled a three-pointer from the corner in the first half and then never saw the court again.  I kept waiting for him to return in the second half as I thought he could push the action on offense and take advantage of Georgia being in the bonus, but that never happened.

If anyone has answers or responses to any of my aforementioned questions, please comment below.

Final thoughts on Kentucky, I mean Calipari

Kentucky basketball Coach John Calipari appeared briefly on yesterday’s “Pardon the Interruption”, an ESPN show hosted by Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

Kornheiser and Wilbon gushed over Calipari like a couple of school girls, treating him like the college basketball icon he is not.

If either of these two former reporters had any cojones they would have asked Coach Calipari to defend his one-and-done strategy that is slowly ruining college basketball by watering down the level of talent on the court.

Even better, they could have inquired about  Calipari’s recruiting successes.   I especially would have enjoyed hearing the coach explain how in his first three years on the job he signed 8 McDonald’s All-Americans – the same number that his predecessors signed over the previous 11 years!

Now, I know that people in Kentucky like their round ball – the slew of home-knitted blue sweaters in Stegeman on Tuesday were a dead give away.  I’m also aware that the Cats have a history of playing competitive basketball.

But the way that Coach Calipari has turned UK into its own little NBA factory in three years is pretty amazing.

How could he elevate a program so quickly?

I know he had problems at his previous job – Memphis – in which some players may or may not have been playing eligibly.  Coach Cal skirted out of town before Derrick Rose landed in Chicago.

I also remember him having some issues at UMASS – something about Marcus Camby receiving improper benefits around the time (1996) when the Minutemen were heading to the Final Four?  If you don’t recall this scandal, Bobby Knight brought it up at his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Calipari scooted out of town before the fire actually started, leaving another program to fend for itself amongst a sea of NCAA accusations.

In March of 2010, Slate Magazine labeled Calipari the “sleaziest coach” in college basketball, and I couldn’t agree more.

Whatever successes the Cats enjoy under Calipari will surely be vacated shortly thereafter, and I would not be at all surprised to see this program hit with some serious NCAA sanctions (soon).  The inflow of McD’s All-Americans just doesn’t add up – or, it does add up if you look at the history of the man bringing them into the school.

Another prediction – Calipari will be long gone while Kentucky weather’s the NCAA storm.