Georgia upends #21 Saint Mary’s to earn 3rd place in the Wooden Legacy

William “Turtle” Jackson willed in a pair of free throws to give his team an 83-79 lead with just 16 seconds remaining, and that buffer was enough to hold off Saint Mary’s as the Gaels failed to score quickly on the ensuing possession; center Jock Landale got a bucket, but only 1 second remained on the clock, and Georgia ended up knocking off the #21 team in the nation 83-81 in overtime for its first win against a ranked opponent in two years (#25 South Carolina).

The Bulldogs used the off day in Fullerton on Saturday to totally reinvent themselves offensively as Mark Fox’s team didn’t resemble anything of the squad that lost to San Diego State and just snuck by Cal State-Fullerton.  Georgia worked the ball inside to its bigs from the start and scored 16 of its 28 points in the paint prior to the break.  The Dawgs took shots earlier in possessions, and they only turned it over 9 times in 45 minutes of play, while dishing out 14 team assists.  Georgia shot over 50% from the floor and made more than 41% of its attempts from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs had five players finish in double-figures with Tyree Crump leading UGA with a career-high 17 points (Yante Maten finished with 16).

The Dawgs weren’t the only ones enjoying being on offense as the Gaels turned in a nice effort themselves in the game that defense forgot.  Saint Mary’s shot over 50% from the floor, but that’s to be expected when a team scores 58 of its points in the paint.  Georgia’s Derek Ogbeide was left on an island to deal with All-American Jock Landale, and that strategy did not pan out well for Ogbeide as Landale torched UGA for 33 points to go along with his 12 boards.  I kept expecting for Fox to switch his team into a zone so that he could give Ogbeide some help inside, but it never happened.  Landale enjoyed an array of one-on-one situations on the block in which he peppered the Georgia bigs with a combination of hook shots and up-and-under moves.

UGA also struggled to corral Saint Mary’s point guard, Emmet Naar, who got into the lane all afternoon en route to 21 points (12 of which came prior to the break).

Aside from the less than stellar defense, credit the Bulldogs for never backing down in a game against a potential NCAA Tournament team.  The Dawgs held a 35-34 advantage at the half; Georgia pushed its lead out to 58-50 with a little over 11 minutes left in regulation following a three-pointer by Tyree Crump, only to see that lead vanish down the stretch.  UGA actually trailed the Gaels 69-67 with 3:06 remaining, but a clutch jumper by Juwan Parker (14 points) and an incredibly strong take by Turtle Jackson (15 points) on the Dawgs’ final possession allowed UGA to push Saint Mary’s to overtime.

The biggest and most obvious takeaway from this tournament has to be the emergence of Turtle as a legitimate scoring threat and key part of the offense.  Jackson averaged 16 points over the past three games, and I can’t imagine the junior is excited to leave Fullerton after making 47% of his three-point attempts in the Titans’ gym.

Nicolas Claxton has also turned out to be a nice early-season surprise for the Dawgs as he is long and incredibly active off the bench.  Claxton played 20 minutes today, and though he wasn’t quite as productive (3 pts, 3 rebs, 2 blocks) as last game, he is constantly around the ball and really attacks the glass.  I realize that Mike Edwards was dealing with some food poison related issues this past weekend, but it’s hard to not see him yielding minutes to the freshman moving forward.

This win comes at the heels of a pair of underwhelming performances in the Wooden Legacy tournament, and it has to give this Georgia team a spark of confidence that it most desperately needs as Mark Fox’s team comes home to prepare for another challenge away from Athens when they play at Marquette as the undercard to next Saturday’s SEC Championship game.



San Diego State knocks Georgia out of Wooden Legacy winner’s bracket

The Georgia Bulldogs (4-1) took their first loss of the season in the second round of the Wooden Legacy as they fell 75-68 to the San Diego State Aztecs (5-1).  Prior to the game it was reported that five to six Dawgs had suffered from food poisoning, and backup center Mike Edwards was so unwell that he remained at the team’s hotel.  How big a factor UGA’s intestinal issues played in this one, we’ll never know. Georgia did get its first taste of legitimate competition for the year, and here are some observations:

Purposeless offense

One of the knocks against Coach Mark Fox during his 9 year tenure at Georgia has been the rigidity of his offensive sets.  Despite having what he deemed before the start of the season as his best team yet, it appears that the Dawgs may once again be handicapped by an offensive system that tends to stifle pace and creativity.  Georgia’s had two point guards over the past decade – Gerald Robinson, Jr. and J.J. Frazier – that were so gifted at getting the ball to the rim that even Fox’s “triangle offense” couldn’t contain them.  Not surprisingly, both of UGA’s trips to the NCAA tournament during Fox’s time at the helm came in years when these young men were donning the Red and Black.

This season, Georgia doesn’t have an explosive point guard, and the offense, especially last night, looks lost.  Against SDSU, a typical UGA possession ran like this: dribble or pass the ball around the perimeter for 24 seconds before someone hurried to get an off-balanced shot up.  The strength of this Bulldog team lies in its formidable frontcourt, yet the Dawgs only scored 18 points in the paint (to the Aztecs 34).  I can recall on one hand possessions in which the ball was actually passed to a Georgia big on the block.  The Dawgs had just 2 fast break points, which came on a bucket from Teshaun Hightower that tied the game at 53 with a little over 9 minutes left.

Yante Maten had 17 points, but it came at the expense of a 4 for 15 shooting effort and 5 turnovers.  Life is going to increasingly difficult for Maten on the block because he’s going to continue to see the convergence on him by opposing defenses, but they will just be bigger and more athletic.

The lone bright spot thus far regarding the Dawgs’ trip to California has to be the emergence of Turtle Jackson as a scoring threat.  Turtle scored 17 points against SDSU, once again breaking a career high in points from the previous game.  Maybe even more important is the fact that Jackson hit 4 three-pointers, and he’s now established himself as the Dawgs most consistent shooter from the perimeter, where he’s making nearly 43% of his attempts on the year.  Fox is going to need to adjust his offense to include more sets in which Maten and Jackson are on the same side so that they can play some inside/out as well as some screen and roll.

As a team, Georgia shot just 38% against the Aztecs, and no other players finished in double-figures.

Defensive lapses

UGA played its best basketball of the season to start this contest.  For the first 8 minutes, the Dawgs’ defense forced SDSU into a number of quick shots, and the Aztecs began the game just 2 of 14 from the floor, which enabled Georgia to jump out to a 16-4 lead with 12:05 left in the first half.

Even though SDSU lost its leading scorer Malik Pope for over 15 minutes prior to the intermission due to foul trouble, the Dawgs were unable to maintain the intensity on the defensive side of the ball.  The Aztec guards consistently got into the lane against Georgia’s backcourt, which led to a number of easy buckets.  SDSU had a much easier time getting points in the paint than UGA, which is probably why they ended up with 34 of them.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs fell back into a lackadaisical mindset defensively during the final stretch of game: after taking a 64-63 advantage following a three by Turtle with 3:43 left, Georgia allowed the Aztecs to reel off 9 unanswered points and take a commanding 72-64 lead with only 1:42 remaining.

UGA failed to protect the defensive glass as they yielded 18 offensive rebounds to the Aztecs; SDSU turned those boards into 15 second-chance points.

Confusing substitution patterns by Fox

Another hallmark of the Mark Fox Era has been his proclivity to substitute his players in and out of games relentlessly, which has led some to question whether his guys are getting enough time on the court to either build chemistry with teammates or find some sort of offensive rhythm themselves.  Pape Diatta, who did not leave the bench on Thursday night, earned 12 minutes of playing time on Friday.  It’s been feast or famine this year for Diatta as he’s averaged nearly 10 minutes in three games and he’s failed to remove his warm up in the other two.

Freshman Teshaun Hightower, who in the first few games appeared poised to possibly ascend into the team’s reserve point guard role, also failed to log a minute against Cal State-Fullerton; however, he played 8 productive minutes against SDSU in which he scored 4 points, dished out 2 assists and grabbed 3 boards.

Both Hightower and fellow freshman, Nicolas Claxton, were on the floor during the final stretch of this one.  Claxton, who played maybe his best game yet (7 points, 7 boards, 3 blocks), was finally subbed out with 1:26 left for started Derek Ogbeide.

I’m no basketball expert, but typically coaches like to have their best five players, or the starters, on the court at the end of close games unless one or more of them is dealing with foul trouble, which wasn’t the case for Georgia on Friday.  Yet, Fox kept starters E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide on the bench with 4 minutes remaining and his team trailing 63-61.  If those two players are part of the five that Fox deems the best to start a game, wouldn’t it make sense to have them on the court when it counts?  Otherwise, why on earth are they starting (particularly Wilridge)?

I realize that I have only questions and no answers here, but the manner in which Fox manages his lineups continues to confound me.

Georgia returns to action Sunday when they take on #21 Saint Mary’s in the tournament’s third place game.

Georgia overcomes sluggish 1st half to advance past California State-Fullerton

Georgia’s Yante Maten, who had missed over 9 minutes in the first half and had just 2 points well into the second, chose an opportune time to come alive in the Dawgs’ match up with the California State-Fullerton (CSF) Titans.  Maten broke a 43-43 tie with a free throw and just 6:25 remaining; he then proceeded to score 10 more of his 15 points over the next 4-plus minutes in what turned out to be a key 12-6 UGA run that was capped off by a three-pointer by Yante from the top of the key.  With its biggest lead of the game, Georgia managed to salt away this contest from the free throw line to secure the 64-57 win, which pushed UGA’s record out to 4-0 overall.

Coming off a 24-turnover effort against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last Sunday, the Georgia offense once again look rather pedestrian.  For much of the night, the Titans ran a zone that extended out beyond the three-point line in an effort to hamper UGA’s ability to get comfortable and pound the ball inside to its bigs.  Georgia’s guards seemed content to either dribble the ball or pass it around the top of the Titan zone, which resulted in numerous turnovers and hurried looks as the shot clock melted away.  In the first half, UGA shot under 31% from the floor and turned the ball over 11 times, and that carelessness led to 11 points for CSF, who held a 27-21 lead at the break.

Georgia’s inability to get into its offense against extended pressure is disconcerting.  Last night’s game exposed just how much the Dawgs are going to miss J.J. Frazier, who would have blown by the Titan perimeter players and attacked the basket, which after a few times would have forced them to retreat out of the zone.  UGA doesn’t have a guard this year that can put a defense on its heels, and it’s certainly the glaring weakness of this team thus far.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Dawgs offensively as they cleaned up their act somewhat after the intermission.  Mark Fox’s team shot the ball much better in the second half (58%) and they only gave the ball away 4 times.  A major catalyst for Georgia’s second half resurgence was Turtle Jackson, who scored 14 of his career-high 16 points following the break.  For the fourth consecutive game, Jackson hit 2 shots from beyond the arc, and his second three-pointer was particularly important for UGA as it brought the Dawgs to within 1 with a little over 10 minutes left to play (nearly wiping out a 37-31 CSF advantage).

Georgia put forth a fairly strong defensive effort on Thursday, especially in the second half when Mark Fox put his team into several different zone looks.  After a layup by CSF’s Davon Clare that gave the Titans a 39-35 lead with 10:40 left, Georgia held Fullerton without a field goal for nearly 8 minutes before Kyle Allman buried a three-pointer to make it 49-48 Georgia with 2:47 remaining.  Other than the fact that UGA allowed Allman to net 34 points, the Dawgs kept the Titans in check for much of the night as they limited them to under 36% from the field.  The Bulldogs bigs did an excellent job on the defensive glass as they yielded just 5 offensive boards to the Titans and only 2 second-chance points.

UGA will take on the San Diego State Aztecs in the second round of the Wooden Legacy in what will easily be the Dawgs’ biggest challenge of the year to date.  SDSU, who destroyed Sacramento State 89-52 in the first round, is a veteran-laden team that will get after Georgia defensively in a way the Dawgs haven’t seen yet this season.  Even though the Bulldogs are 4-0 on the year, they will have to play better than they have been if they want to advance in the winner’s bracket of the Wooden Legacy tournament.