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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Georgia-South Carolina hoops blog

Final: Georgia 64-48

No drama. No blown lead. Just a win that puts Georgia one step closer to the NCAA tournament.

The Bulldogs cruised to this victory - or at least they did after some anxious minutes early in the second half. But the final part of the half finally allowed the fans to leave without reservation.

Mark Fox even got to clear his bench. He left the starters in until there was 1:13 left, when he called a timeout and sent in everyone else, including walk-on Matt Bucklin. That brought a warm response from the student section.

So where does this leave Georgia? I think it has breathing room now: Win one of its remaining regular-season games, and that might be enough to cinch up the bid. Win two more, including the SEC tournament first-round game, and that should also suffice.

6:34 left in second half, Georgia leads 63-40

Okay, it looks like the run of blown leads is ending. Georgia is in complete command of this one.

The Bulldogs have their biggest lead of the game, and Gerald Robinson can add to it after the timeout by completing a three-point play.

The defense has been the story for Georgia in not only holding onto the lead, but extending it. The rebounding has been solid, the perimeter defense stellar, and the Bulldogs are keeping their hands in the passing lanes, creating a lot of turnovers.

So, dare I say it, Georgia will almost certainly finish one up, and clinch at least a .500 record in league play. It's safe to write that, right? ... Right?

11:33 left in second half, Georgia leads 51-30

Georgia absorbed the run and built the lead back up to 21. So is there another run coming? I keep thinking there is, considering South Carolina, the 3-point shooting team, still hasn't hit one yet.

Of course it's also possible that the Gamecocks just aren't very good.

Plus, the Bulldogs have seemed pretty locked in mentally this game. After a few turnovers early in the half, their passing got crisp again, and they beat the press and got the open layups and dunks they were getting in the first half.

Oh, and one of those dunks was by Travis Leslie, who predictably adding to his highlight reel.

15:39 left in second half, Georgia leads 41-27

Were it not for the events of the past six games, everyone would assume the Bulldogs were a short time from putting it away. Instead, everyone seems to be awaiting the inevitable.

I'm not saying it will happen. But let's just say a relieved roar went up from the crowd just now when Jeremy Price threw down a dunk to end a 9-0 run for the Gamecocks.

The key is going to be Georgia's rebounding and defense. South Carolina still doesn't have a made 3-pointer, and there's no way it comes back if it doesn't start nailing outside shots. Georgia's perimeter defense, and its switching, has been very good this game.

Halftime: Georgia leads 39-22

For the seventh straight game, Georgia has the lead at halftime. And this one isn't even as big as the one it had in Columbia.

But ... OK, I know ... this one seems safer. Relatively speaking. The Bulldogs actually built on their lead after losing Trey Thompkins to foul trouble with around five minutes left.

Mark Fox said a couple nights ago that the defensive rebounding has been the difference in the second half collapses. He's right, but South Carolina's 3-point shooting also bears watching in the final 20 minutes. The Gamecocks live and die with the 3, and right now they're dying: 0-for-10 beyond the arc.

What I said earlier about Travis Leslie possibly having more highlight dunks? Yeah, he drove the lane and threw one down. The Gamecocks had no post presence without Sam Muldrow, who also picked up his second foul. If Muldrow picks up more fouls, South Carolina would be wise to play him anyway. Otherwise it has no defense inside for Thompkins, Jeremy Price and company.

The moral of the story: Georgia has the better team, and should be able to put its foot on the other team's neck. But we've said that before.

7:31 left in first half, Georgia leads 22-13

Georgia has retained control, though a 16-point lead has been whittled back into single digits. The press is starting to give the Bulldogs problems, but prior to that Georgia was getting a series of open layups, and South Carolina's shots were just not falling.

The key stat: Georgia is winning the rebounding battle, 17-9.

Jeremy Price just had an interesting couple minutes. In case you're not watching:

Price got the ball open downcourt, but instead of scoring himself, he tried to give Leslie an under-handed alley-oop pass. Leslie was fouled trying to throw it down, leading a livid Fox to yank Price from the game. (The crowd gave him an ovation, and even Fox sent Price away with a pat on the butt.)

Price’s “mistake” turned out to be a boon: Leslie missed the second free throw, but somehow rebounded his own miss and threw down a dunk. So there's your Leslie highlight of the night. But I'm not ruling out more.

13:56 left in first half, Georgia leads 12-4

Everyone is forgiven if they take an early lead with a grain of salt. But so far Georgia doesn't look like the short turnaround is affecting it much.

The Bulldogs have scored on a number of layups, getting good ball movement against South Carolina's trapping defensive style. The Gamecocks have also started cold again from the field, but the Bulldog defense has had a good deal to do with that.

So basically: Good start, but we all know that doesn't mean much.

Minutes from tipoff

They're doing intros now. I guess I don't have to tell you Georgia's key for this game: If it gets an early lead, HOLD IT. Hey, maybe the best thing is for South Carolina to be up at halftime.

Rebounding will be big in this one too. The Gamecocks have a very good center in Sam Muldrow, but not much else. Georgia should be able to get a lot of baskets inside, and with the Gamecocks' air-it-out style on offense, the key will be not letting them get many second chances.

South Carolina's basic strategy is to trade 3s-for-twos. But they also have Muldrow, the program's all-time shot block leader, to mitigate those open twos.

Then it also becomes a matter of Georgia being able to beat the Gamecock press and avoid the turnovers. It wasn't an issue in the first half in Columbia; but as you saw it was in the second.

Pregame thoughts

ATHENS - I don't know if Georgia will beat South Carolina - there's something that tells me this will be a really tight one - but the day is off to a pretty good start for the Bulldogs.

Colorado beat No. 5 Texas, which helps things for Georgia. Maybe not in a major way, but it adds to the value of the win over Colorado. The Buffaloes started the day ranked No. 85 in the RPI, so barring a collapse they will remain a top 100 win for Georgia.

Meanwhile, some other bubble teams had some bad losses: VCU lost at home to James Madison, meaning VCU probably needs to win the CAA tournament to make it. Nebraska's loss to Iowa State is a killer. Miami's loss at Florida State may be the last stake in the Hurricanes' at-large hopes.

On the other hand, Kansas State (over Missouri) and Boston College (at Virginia) got good wins. Kansas State is almost certainly in, but BC has a lot of work left to do.

This isn't good or bad for Georgia, but Alabama's loss at Ole Miss is definitely bad for the Tide. It drops to 11-3 in the SEC, and if it loses at Florida on Tuesday, it's game against Georgia on Saturday may be inconsequential; the Tide would probably have to win the SEC tournament to get a bid, or at least get to the title game.

Kentucky's win over Florida keeps the East a muddled picture, at least between second and fifth.


Anonymous said...

If Dawgs win 20 in the SEC, how can the NCAA keep them out?

gastr1 said...

Anon, Alabama might win 20 and not get in.