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.