Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ugly loss to UGA

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor freezing rain, nor a combination thereof shall keep me from watching very bad basketball! I had not planned on going to this game, but when I found out it wasn't going to be televised live anywhere, I decided to take off and make the trip. I was one of about 20 or so UA fans at the game.

This was an important game for us. We were much more talented than UGA. I honestly don't think they have a single player who would start for us...Maybe one of their forwards over Jemison, but that's it. It's always tough to win on the road, but against a team with little talent and absolutely no depth, I thought we had a chance going in. A win would have put us at 1-2 going into the homestand, and a .500 record should be good enough to compete in the West this year. We had every reason to be fired up about this game.

Instead, we came out flat. UGA set the tone early playing very tight man to man defense, once again shutting down our high-post offense. Speaking of the high-post, for some reason we had Hendrix playing at the elbow and Jemison on the low block for a good portion of the first half. UGA did everything they could to keep the ball out of Hendrix's hands, so I guess we were thinking we would have a better chance of at least getting him the ball in the high post. Unfortunately, this strategy failed miserably. Still, I thought Hendrix played well, getting second chance points, coming up with loose balls, etc.

Our interior defense was pretty good, but once again we failed to defend the perimeter. This was not a case of UGA making a bunch of tough, contested shots. This was a case of Riley, Rico, and at times Gee playing very poor defense. We tried to play man to man, but our wingmen would leave their man, usually unnecessarily, to help down low, and UGA would use an inside-out game to get a wide open 3. We switched to the zone, but were always out of position, so all Georgia had to do was reverse the ball around the perimeter to get a wide open shot from the wing or corner. At the end of the day, shooting (as a byproduct of poor perimeter defense) was the difference in the game.

UGA stretched the lead out to 15 at one point late in the first half after Hendrix went out with an injury. However, the play of Justin Knox was not the reason for UGA's run. UGA continued to bomb 3's even with Hendrix out of the game. Fortunately, he was able to come back in, and we closed the half on a 5-0 to go in down 10.

The only real positive I can find in this game is that the team did not quit. There were several times when UGA had stretched the lead to 12 or more with momentum, but we were always able to at least keep it somewhat respectable.

Once again, free throw shooting killed us. If I were coaching against us, I would institute a "hack a Shaq" policy on Hendrix at this point. He's awful at the line. We also missed the front end of a one and one that could have been a big factor in our comeback late in the game.

When we finally started pressing late in the game, we were able to cut the lead to 4 with just under 2 minutes left. However, we gave up yet another open 3 after allowing UGA to run the shot clock down, thus extending the lead back to 7. Needing to answer quickly, we took 28 seconds to get off a very poor shot which never had a chance, and we were then forced to foul. UGA, who shot 90% from the free throw line, converted on both to stretch the lead back to 9 and end all hopes for a comeback.

We are now 3 games into conference play and we still do not know who is our best point guard. Coach Gottfried's best teams have come when he's had a great leader at the PG spot, namely Pettway and Steele. Make of that what you will. In this game, it was obvious early on that Hollinger was not going to be able to repeat his second half performance at Arkansas. Rico seems to be struggling on the road at this point. I thought Torrance performed best of all the PGs, but that is not saying much. He was at least able to penetrate and score on his own a couple of times when everybody else was just standing around. I still think Hollinger is most valuable coming in off the bench at the 2 spot.

Our offense was painful to watch. We made no effort to get into transition all night. Most of the time, we would not even get into our set until the shot clock was down to 20 seconds or so. As I've already stated, UGA had a good game plan to prevent us from running the offense through Richard. We desperately needed to make some of the open perimeter shots they were giving us to open things up. Instead, we shoot 2 for 20 from 3 pt range. If Riley, Tubbs, Hollinger, Gee, or somebody doesn't step up and start making some 3's soon, we aren't going to win an SEC game. With no other post players to compliment Hendrix, it is imperative that we make some outside shots.

Once again we were sloppy with the ball. 13 turnovers in the first half, and UGA rarely pressed us. This was the result of poor fundamentals. We made lazy, lob passes. We jumped in the air with no clue what we were planning on doing with the basketball. We tried to force it into Hendrix even though there was no passing lane. I have not seen such poor offensive basketball since the David Hobbs era.

Justin Knox appears to have the tools but he is very raw right now. You can tell he does not look comfortable, and he had a couple of turnovers. I question the way we have handled him. He hardly plays at all in the non-conference schedule, which would have been a good time to get him some experience, but now all of a sudden he is ahead of Yamene Coleman on the depth chart? Surely there was a better way to prepare him for playing on the road in the SEC.

I also cannot understand why we were content to play a halfcourt game with UGA. They have no depth whatsoever, and only one ball handler. On the other hand, we have 9 or so guys who can play. Why not press? Especially when we had Torrance and Hillman in the game, it was painfully obvious we weren't going to have much success in the halfcourt offense, but I believe a full court press could have forced the tempo a little bit and maybe given us an advantage.

The highlight of the night came during one of the timeouts. They had a promotion where one contestant had 30 seconds to shoot from various marks on the court. For each basket made, the contestant won a certain amount of money in relation to the difficulty of the shot. He started out by making a layup for $25. He then ran to half-court to attempt the $2,500 dollar shot. He missed, got the rebound, and chunked it from halfcourt again. With time now running out, he ran back to halfcourt to try one last shot. The crowd groaned, sensing that he had wasted his opportunity by trying 3 unrealistic shots. With the clock running down, nothing but net! The third time was a charm, and he took home $2,525. The place went nuts, and even the UGA fan sitting in front of me (who I suspect had been getting annoyed with me), turned around to give us a high-five.

Up next, Rick Stansfield brings his m$u bulldogs into Tuscaloosa Saturday. They are coming off a big win at home against Kentucky, and they are playing pretty good basketball right now. This will be another tough game for us. I know people are down on this team now, and rightfully so, but this is a huge game. The beauty of college basketball is that no matter how bad you start, you aren't out of it. A .500 record will be good enough to compete in the West this year, and we get our next 4 games at home. If we can win Saturday and get some momentum, a 4-3 or even 3-4 record at the end of the homestand and we are back in the middle of things. With Tennessee being a part of that homestand, it's going to be difficult to accomplish that if we start out 0-4. We need a big crowd Saturday to help prevent that from happening.


bobbyjack said...

To have ANY shot at the West we must win all 4 coming up at home. Otherwise we'd be at the very least -2 (2 home losses/0 road wins) and would have to go on the road and win 2 or 3 and not lose another home game.

At this time I say highly unlikely.

Hville said...

I appreciate your writeup, DJC. I know it must pain you to regurgitate the mess that you just saw in person. It was bad enough on the radio. I assume since you hate M$U as much as myself, you will be there Saturday. I will be there with my nephew.