Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The go-to guy

Thursday December 22, 2005

Georgia’s basketball team was very close to knocking off a Top 20 team three time zones away last night. Repeat that a few times and let it sink in.

I’m so happy, and it’s such progress, to be talking about nuances instead of just hoping we find a way to break 40. I could dwell on foul shots or freshmen mistakes, but they all add up to something bigger.

Georgia lacks a go-to guy, and it’s going to continue to hurt them in close games.

Marginal players get points every now and then. Good players get their points more consistently and don’t talk halves off. But the real difference-makers get their points when their team needs them most – on those half-dozen possessions or so in each game where you either must answer a score on the other end or take advantage of a mistake and go for the jugular.

I’ve thought about Georgia football’s running game in this context for most of the season. It’s nice if you can run for 200 yards a game, but what does that really mean if you can’t be counted on to convert the 3rd and 2 to sustain the key drive?

Last night, there wasn’t a single person you’d want to have the ball at the end. Stukes and Toney were non-factors all night. Mercer was erratic. Gaines isn’t a consistent enough shooter. Humphrey had cooled down considerably. The posts were worn down and ineffective. Idrissi was the closest thing Georgia had to a go-to guy, and he’s not ready for that role yet. And none of them could hit a free throw.

Contrast that with Nevada’s Nick Fazekas. Fazekas finished with a double-double, but it’s four critical points that made the difference in the game. With the game still very much in question and around four minutes to play, Fazekas twice got separation inside and got two significant consecutive baskets. It had been eons since either team had a two-possession lead, but Nevada’s go-to guy gave them just enough separation to get the upper-hand in the game and force Georgia to make plays on the offensive end, and Georgia wasn’t up to it. “He had two big-time plays that deflated us,” said Coach Felton, and that’s exactly what this kind of player brings to the table: the huge basket or defensive play that takes a mental toll on the opponent.

The good news is that Georgia has too much talent for a more dependable option not to emerge. It’s just a matter of who and when. In the shorter term, it could be a guard such as Humphrey. He’s not there yet. It’s great to get a slew of three-pointers in the first half, but that shot needs to be there with two minutes left and down a possession or two. Improvement on his game inside the arc can help prevent him from becoming a streaky one-trick pony like so many long-range specialists. He is big and quick enough, and his outside shot is enough of a threat, that he should be able to penetrate to the elbow and either knock down the midrange jumper or pass. I think that’s what we had hoped to see from Levi Stukes at this point in his career, but he continues to play hot and cold from game to game.

Jarvis Hayes of course was the consummate go-to guy at Georgia, and players like him haven’t come along too often in Athens. Some guys like Rashad Wright develop in that role as their careers progress. Given this much talent getting this much playing time and doing relatively well already with solid coaching, I have to believe that Georgia will find their Robert Horry who is clutch and money and often unstoppable during the crucial final four minutes of a game.

We know now that Georgia is good enough to expect to play in a lot of close and competitive games as this season wears on. The difference between winning and losing those close games will be just this kind of player. Nevada had one…at least one. Most postseason-quality SEC teams will have one. Georgia doesn’t have that guy yet, and that might make for a very frustrating season as a team that shows a lot of promise comes up just short in several games. But if someone – or a small group of regulars – can become that consistent second-half option, look out.

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