Georgia Falls Short Against Washington 68-65

Well, the drive up I-85 into the Queen City on Friday was a lot more fun than the drive home today.

The first half of the game against Washington seemed eerily similar to the first half of the game against Alabama in the second round of the conference tournament.  In both games, Georgia had an opponent struggling to find offense, yet the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize and create any significant separation on the scoreboard.

Last night, Washington went through a near nine-minute span in which they mustered just one field goal.  Georgia, however, was unable to step on the accelerator, and following a jumper by Scott Suggs the Huskies were only down 23-18 with 3:53 left before the half.

Washington started to figure out the Dawgs‘ zone defense near the end of the first half, and after a 12-5 Huskie run the teams went into intermission knotted-up at 28 apiece.

Coming out of the break, the Huskies looked like a completely different team than the one that played the first 20 minutes.  Washington’s pressure on their man defense was ferocious, forcing Georgia to start its offense from well beyond the perimeter – the Huskies nearly pressed the Dawgs into consecutive shot clock violations.  I honestly don’t recall the Dawgs facing a more intense half court defense all season.

Unfortunately for Georgia, Washington’s improved second-half defense was matched by some improved offense as well.  The Huskies knocked down 7 of their first 10 field goal attempts in the opening nine minutes after the break.  After shooting just 35.3% from the field in the first half, Washington connected on nearly 54% of their shots from the floor after intermission.

The Huskies star guard, Isiah Thomas, scored 17 of his 19 points in the game’s second half – he seemed unguardable at times.

This nine minute stretch that extended the Washington lead to 49-39 with only 11:15 left nearly closed the door on Georgia.

I say nearly because as many of you already know, this team has not quit when they have been down this season, and last night was no different.

The Bulldogs fought and clawed and were down by just 2 points with 7 seconds left following a Trey Thompkins three-pointer – Trey played great by the way, leading his team with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

After a missed free throw by Washington’s C.J. Wilcox, the Dawgs’ Travis Leslie launched a last-second three that would have sent the game into overtime – but fate had other plans as the shot came up short.

It’s funny, but I think my favorite moment of this entire season came just minutes after it ended.

Time Warner Arena was not nearly close to capacity for the Georgia-Washington game last night, but there were a good number of very-spirited Bulldog fans in attendance.

After the final horn had sounded and the teams began exiting the court, the entire UGA fan base, in an act of pure class, rose from their seats and gave this Georgia basketball team a standing ovation.  The Bulldog fans recognized that these 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids had poured everything they had into this season and into getting to this NCAA tournament game, and they rewarded them with applause.

Mark Fox and this group of players have transformed Georgia basketball from a perennial loser into a relevant SEC program – and in just two years!

The Bulldogs earned an at-large bid to the this year’s NCAA tournament, and proved last night that they belonged.

Georgia beat the SEC Tournament Champion Kentucky Wildcats earlier this year – a team that just advanced to the Sweet 16 of this tournament following their win over West Virginia earlier this afternoon.  The Dawgs took both the Big East regular season runner-up (Notre Dame) and the SEC regular season champion (Florida) to double-overtime.

Even though the Bulldogs came up just a little short last night against the Huskies, it was still extremely cool to see them participating in the NCAA’s, and I think we should all be proud of what these guys accomplished this season.

Georgia vs Washington: Last minute thoughts

I don’t have a lot more to write about concerning the game tonight – the AJC has pretty much exhausted the topic.

However, I did come across this article in yesterday’s Seattle Times – a piece about the Huskies approach to their tournament practice and the game with the Georgia Bulldogs.

Apparently the Huskies’ players showed up 15 minutes late for their scheduled press conference in Charlotte.

During their tournament practice time at Time Warner Arena, Washington (after a 40-minute workout) “thrilled the smattering of fans inside Time Warner Cable Arena with a half-court, buzzer-beating drill and an impromptu dunk contest.”

The Georgia Bulldogs took a more routine, almost business-like approach – shooting jump-shots and free throws.

Washington has been ranked for a majority of the year, while the Bulldogs were in the national rankings for just a week.  Georgia is basically irrelevant nationally when it comes to college basketball, and the SEC is still regarded as a lower-tier basketball conference.

I realize that Washington won the Pac-10, earning them an automatic bid to these year’s tournament – but they would have made it either way.  The Huskies expected to be included.

Georgia, on the other hand, was on the bubble for the past two or three weeks.  The Dawgs (from what I have read over the past week) seem to be grateful to have been included, and extremely excited about this opportunity.

I may be reading too much into Washington’s press conference tardiness and questionable practice routine, but it kind of seems as if this Washington team is not taking Georgia as seriously as they should.

Any thoughts?

Second Round Dawg Fight

Before I could finish my cup of coffee on Monday morning, I had already read more than a few sentences on the various sports media websites regarding the Washington Huskies’ (23-10; 11-7) star point guard Isiah Thomas – the fact that he had just hit a buzzer-beater to lift his team over Arizona in the Pac-10 championship Sunday didn’t hurt his public relations either.

ESPN’s Dana O’Neil listed Thomas as one of her “Five Players to Watch” in the East Region.  So did Eric Angevine of CBS Sports.  Stewart Mandell of Sports Illustrated.com likes Isiah Thomas’ Huskies as a “Bracketbuster“.

Thomas has definitely been deserving of all the praise, though, averaging 16.8 ppg and earning Pac-10 First Team honors this season (along with teammate Matthew Bryan-Amaning).  He can shoot it well from the perimeter, knocking down nearly 36% of this three-point attempts, as well as create off the dribble – Thomas led the conference with 6.0 assists per game.

Georgia‘s Gerald Robinson is a great defender though, and he undoubtedly will be looking forward to this defensive challenge.  In the first meeting between Georgia and Kentucky, Robinson held the Cats’ star guard Brandon Knight to just 10 points – his lowest output of the season.

Knight wasn’t the only SEC point guard that Robinson frustrated this year.  Ole Miss’s Chris Warren, a First Team All-SEC selection, mustered only 9 points against the Dawgs, which was his lone single-digit scoring effort of the season.

Bruce Ellington, South Carolina’s All-SEC Freshman Team’er, tallied just 9 points in 57 total minutes against the defense of GR2 this year.

Xavier’s Tu Holloway, who ended up 20th in the nation in scoring with 20.2 ppg, didn’t connect on a single field goal until the second half of the Musketeers game in Athens earlier this season.  Holloway did finish with 18 points, but if you remember, nearly all of those came from the free throw line at the end of the game when Georgia was forced to foul – he only hit 3 of his 13 field goal attempts.

The match-up between Thomas and Robinson will be one (of two) key match-ups in this game, with the winner of it putting his team in a great position to advance.

The other fantastic match-up in this contest will be in the paint, between Georgia’s Trey Thompkins and Washington’s Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  Bryan-Amaning, a First Team All-Pac-10 selection, averaged 15.5 ppg and 8.1 rpg this year for the Huskies.  On top of having a 6’9″/240 pound frame, he also has a 7’4″ wingspan – making Bryan-Amaning very difficult to shoot over – and oh yeah, he’s also tremendously athletic.

Georgia desperately needs Trey to step up and lead in this post-season if they are going to find some success.  In the SEC tournament, Thompkins had a big game against Auburn, but in the closing minutes in the loss to Alabama he was nowhere to be found.

The Dawgs have squandered their fair share of leads late in games this season, and a large part of that has to do with a lack of leadership.  In Georgia’s first win over Kentucky in Athens, Thompkins demanded the ball during the games final five minutes – scoring baskets and knocking down clutch free throws.

In the Bama game though (like many others), Thompkins did not step up and settle everything down.  When the game is closing and things are getting tight, this Bulldog teams looks and leans on Trey for scoring and stability.

Trey Thompkins will have the national spotlight on him on Friday night when these teams tip-off approximately at 9:45pm in Charlotte, and hopefully (for Georgia’s sake) he is prepared to embrace it.