Alabama bounced back from a 20 point loss on the road at auburn to get a 20 point win on the road against a (at the time) top 50 RPI team in Georgia.
We changed the starting lineup again, this time going big with 1. Dazon 2. Riley 3. Key 4. Bola and 5. Donta. It worked early, at least on the defensive side. In some ways it reminded me of the start of the auburn game. We had built a 6 point lead, but it felt like it should have been more. The great defensive effort held Georgia to just 9 points in the first 9 minutes, but due to some poor shooting and turnovers, we only led by 6.
Honestly, the first 10 minutes or so were rather boring. It was a slow-paced, half-court, defensive slugfest. The end of the first half, conversely, had all kinds of fireworks. After building a double-digit lead, we gave up the rare "And 2" play, when Bola fouled away from the ball on a made 3 pointer, giving Georgia a 5 point play to cut the lead to 5. Moments later, UGA was called for palming (it was a good call), and Coach Fox totally lost his mind, coming well onto the Alabama side of the floor to vehemently argue the call. When he refused to retreat to his coach's box, he was hit with a second technical and gone. Key made 3 of 4 free throws, then Corban drained a 3, and the lead was back to 14. Georgia was not playing well, they looked flat after their controversial loss to aTm and the crowd, at least on TV, sounded quiet and uninterested. I think Coach Fox intended to get ejected there to try to bring some life into his squad and the building. UGA made a bit of a push after that, but Corban nailed another 3 at the end of the first half to take a 14 point lead into the locker room.
Let me pause here and talk a bit about the officiating. As most of you know, I officiate high school basketball myself, so I will try to be objective and present this from an official's point-of-view. I've heard a lot of talk that the official was "too quick" with the second technical, or that he should have "walked away" after the first one. That is simply not the case. The first one was obviously a no-brainer, but Antony Petty (the ref) could not simply "walk away," as he still had to report the technical foul to the table, and inform Coach Johnson so he could select his free throw shooters. Petty clearly warned Fox 3 times, to return to his bench before giving him the second T. He handled it 100% appropriately. Secondly, Fox was pointing in the general direction of the UGA basket and, while my lip reading skills may not be perfect, appeared to yell "BOTH WAYS" several times on his way out of the gym. UGA was in the bonus very early in the half while they had only been called for 3 fouls. I'm not saying Georgia should have been called for more or that our's were bad calls, but many officials do try to keep the foul count someone even (which I disagree with, but that's a subject for another day.) My point is, the idea that we were benefiting from inconsistent calls is absurd. That being said, I disagreed with the technical foul given on UGA literally for giving our guy a dirty look in the second half, and I think the intentional foul should have been just a hard common foul.
Our old friend Coach Phillip Pearson took over for Mark Fox. I've always liked coach Pearson, but he was no match for Coach Johnson. While I wasn't crazy about using a new starting lineup and altering the rotations again, it worked beautifully. Playing Hall and Jimmie at the same time for stretches really paid off, as UGA doesn't have much size other than Maten. This team has been very good at defending the opponent's "go to" guy, and this game was no different, as we totally shut down J.J. Frazier. UGA stuck with a zone, and after Jimmie and Donta were able to beat them in the post, things opened up on the perimeter. Great spacing and ball movement led to a 9 of 16 shooting night from 3 point range.
It was a great team effort. Jimmie set the stage with double digits, scoring 10, while Donta added 11 rebounds. Dazon has struggled a bit lately, and while he still had 3 turnovers without scoring from the field, he made the free throws in the second half to put the game away after UGA briefly cut the 20 point lead down to 10. Braxton was the clear MVP and a beast on both ends of the floor with 26 points and 9 rebounds. Riley and Corban both shot well with 15 points each. I hope this doesn't tempt Coach to give Corban more starts. He seems to play better coming off the bench, and I really like him in the 6th man role.
I talked about this after the auburn game, but ESPN's coverage is embarrassingly bad. I realize it was a game between two of the most football centric fanbases in a football centric conference, but I should not hear the phrase "pick 6" during a basketball game, much less the dozen or so times it was referenced during this game. Again, there were several times when they went to commercial break following a whistle with no way of knowing what the call was. They inexplicably disagreed with the palming call, which looked obvious to me. I even yelled "he carried" at the TV before the whistle blew. I will give them a pass for criticizing the second technical on Fox as discussed above, since even a lot of knowledgeable fans do not understand the mechanics of officiating.
The win dropped UGA out of the top 50, and unfortunately with a brutal schedule coming up, I can't see their two players being enough to get them back in. The win jumped us up from 90 to 76. This team still has a lot of flaws, and the NCAA tournament is still a pipe dream this year, but we seem to be improving, which is really the most important aspect of this season.
So we roll into February with a 5-2 conference record and standing in 4th place in the SEC. The schedule gets much tougher for the next 2 or 3 weeks, so we need to protect our home court and try to hold our ground.
Up next, a much improved Mi$$i$$ippi $tate that will be out for revenge when they come to Coleman Coliseum for a 5pm start Saturday night. PLEASE, if at all possible, show up and support these guys. With 3 road wins already in conference play, I think they deserve a good atmosphere in a huge game at home. $tate always brings a lot of people over from Mississippi, and we need to make sure we have a significant home court advantage. If you absolutely cannot get there, it will be televised on the SEC Network.