Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post One last LSU video

Wednesday January 31, 2007

It’s time to put the LSU game to bed and get on with tonight’s challenge at Tennessee…after this highlight video.

Post Red-out in the stands, then they were run out of the gym

Tuesday January 30, 2007

We need to start watching the rate of disastrous failures for those "<insert color>-out" promotions that everyone is doing now. You know, the "white-out" or "red-out" or whatever color your school is where everyone in the crowd is asked to wear the same color or are given shirts to make the effect happen.

UT Checkerboard
OK, this was pretty cool. But they lost.

Though it involved that horrible orange, I have to admit that one of the better ones was the checkerboard effect that Tennessee did last year. And guess what? Tennessee lost.

It might be just me, but it seems that these games often end up as spectacular losses. It makes sense – crowd gimmicks are usually used to get sell-outs for big games in which the home team is often the underdog, so it’s not really a surprise that the visiting team wins.

The best example I can think of is the hapless "blackout" games of South Carolina football. In 2001, South Carolina organized a blackout for the Florida game. It looked great, and the overflow crowd was out of its mind. Florida proceeded to lay a 54-17 score on the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier, then coaching Florida of course, made one of his infamous quips after the game saying that the black background made it easier for his receivers to see the ball.

That stood as a pretty good benchmark for the futility of crowd color gimmicks until last night. Nebraska organized a "red-out" for their basketball game with Kansas. Huge game, big-name ranked opponent, national TV. The crowd obediently packed the arena with red, and the stage was set for the upset. Right? That lasted about a minute. Kansas soon had a 39-6 lead which included a 27-0 run. A "yellow-out" might have been more appropriate given how Nebraska wet the bed on the national stage.

So we’ll try to look out for and highlight the future successes or, better, outright beatings that come from these games. A few groundrules:

  1. Has to be more or less a one-time or once-a-season thing. If it’s something that the students or a large part of the crowd does every game, it doesn’t really count.
  2. Has to be organized or at least endorsed or promoted by the school. Thus the "wear black for Dooley" grassroots campaign a few years ago doesn’t count, but the "wear red for Brophy" one last weekend does.
  3. Has to involve more than just students. Free t-shirts of the same color in the student section from the local chicken finger place isn’t what we’re talking about.

Congratulations, Nebraska. You’ve got us off and running.

Post Big three-game test coming up for Dawgs

Monday January 29, 2007

Riding high at 5-2, the Georgia basketball team is about to enter what might be their toughest stretch of the SEC season. Their next three games:

  • at Tennessee
  • at Vanderbilt
  • vs. Florida

Because of the nature of SEC road games and the quality of the competition, this is every bit as demanding as the Clemson-Wisconsin-Florida stretch a month ago. As PWD points out, road wins in the SEC are ridiculously rare this year. Georgia has one of the six, and that makes the missed opportunity at Alabama even bigger. It’s a very good thing that Georgia has been able to hold serve at home thus far. With road wins so scarce around the conference, you have to take care of things at home and steal what you can on the road if you hope to have a strong enough conference record when the season ends.

Tennessee has dropped five of their last six with all five losses coming on the road. That’s a pretty brutal schedule – the Vols have played five road games and just two home games in January. The good news for them is that they have four of their next five at home, and they are undefeated at home this year. Even with neither Pat Summitt or Phil Fulmer showing up topless, they’ve done very well at home and have knocked off Memphis and Texas there. The bad news for them is that Chris Lofton remains injured. Even if he tries to go, he won’t be 100%. Without Lofton, South Carolina was able to put a scare into the Vols at home. Georgia hasn’t won at Tennessee since 2001, so they’ll have a lot more than just Lofton to overcome.

Vandy is one of the hottest teams in the league, though a midweek trip to Florida might cool them down a bit. They’ve knocked off Alabama and Tennessee at home, but they’ve also impressively downed Kentucky and LSU on the road. Georgia’s 85-73 win earlier in the month is the only thing keeping the Commodores from a six-game winning streak. Memorial is always a unique and tough place to play, but Georgia managed to take a game there last season. Can they do it again?

Florida of course is the nation’s #1 team. If Georgia can get one or two of these road games, the Stegeman effect should be in full force for the Gators even better than it was for Kentucky. If Georgia could ever pull off that upset, they’ll need the crowd.

Georgia is carrying a lot of momentum entering this stretch, and it’s important for both the team and the fans who have gotten so excited over this 5-2 start to maintain this enthusiasm no matter what happens over this three-game block. If we can get a couple of wins from it, all the better. The SEC season is a long haul, and the difference between teams that make the postseason and those that don’t is the ability to keep up focus and high level of play over the course of the season and not for just a couple of weeks.

It’s an exciting time – in ten days the possibilities for this season will become a lot more clear. At the very worst, they’ll still be above .500 but fighting for postseason position with each game over the last month of the season. But there’s also the possibility to take a big step forward over these next three games and leave no doubt about the return of the Georgia program.

Post They did it for Brophy

Sunday January 28, 2007

I’ll start with the sappy stuff that everyone else has already thought and probably said…how fitting that Georgia beats LSU by three on a three-pointer at the buzzer on the day that they honored the memory of #3.

Levi Stukes - LSU gamewinner
Photo: AP

With that out of the way, this was another nice win for the Dawgs as they continue to hold serve in the SEC at home. The win moves them to 5-2 in the SEC, and they remain tied with Vanderbilt and Kentucky for second place in the East. They’ve now beaten consecutive ranked teams and are a blown lead at Alabama away from owning a six-game SEC win streak.

Though the dramatic finish and outcome makes much of the details of the game less interesting, this was a very frustrating game. Georgia fell behind early by failing to control the defensive glass, and they managed less than ten points over the first twelve minutes of the game. LSU did everything they could do to let Georgia take control of the game, but the best that Georgia could do once LSU’s shooting went cold was to draw even and set up a back-and-forth second half.

Though LSU’s Glen Davis had 18 points and 14 rebounds, a big story in this game was Takais Brown’s ability to hold his own. Brown had 14 points and 10 rebounds including a tremendous eight offensive rebounds. Georgia’s 14 offensive rebounds were critical on a night where they shot under 35%.

It was basically a two-man game for both teams with one big man and one outside shooter. LSU had Davis and 16 points from guard Terry Martin, and Georgia had Brown and 16 from Levi Stukes. Georgia just had more guys doing a few little things to make the difference, and for one of the first times their depth really showed. Whether it was two big three-pointers from Woodbury or a critical offensive rebound and dunk to tie the game by Mercer, the Dawgs got just enough of those little plays.

Georgia has an opportunity to steal one on the road this week. Tennessee is vulnerable with leading scorer Chris Lofton likely out due to an ankle injury, and the Dawgs can win in Knoxville as well as they’re playing now. Though we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, this game against Tennessee is going to serve as a good test to see whether or not Georgia will enter the second half of the SEC slate as not only legitimate postseason participants but also a factor in the SEC standings.

PS…if I never have to hear Cliff Ellis talk about “candy”, “Big Baby”, or “bonus sphere” again, I’ll be a much happier spectator.

UPDATE: You can watch the entire Lincoln Financial broadcast here.

Post Not a bad way to start a baseball season

Friday January 26, 2007

Georgia will open the 2007 baseball season in two weeks against the defending national champions Oregon State. The Beavers started the defense of their title in grand fashion last night by no-hitting Hawaii-Hilo. Yep…win the national title, head to Hawaii for a few days, toss a no-hitter. Not bad.

That’s right – it might be 35 degrees outside, but we’re just a few weeks from hearing this again in Athens, and spring won’t be far behind.

Post Lady Dogs hand Ole Miss first SEC loss

Friday January 26, 2007

Ole Miss has emerged as a challenger to the usual teams on top of SEC women’s basketball (Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, and Vanderbilt). Carol Ross, forever the coach at Florida, finally has Ole Miss rebuilt and competing at a high level. They started 5-0 in SEC play, scored home wins over LSU and Vanderbilt, and cracked the top 25. They feature a sharpshooting guard attack and lead the SEC in scoring behind superstar Arminte Price.

With consecutive SEC games against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, Georgia saw the two teams most capable of taking Georgia’s place in the SEC power rankings. The Lady Dogs proved to be up to that challenge. They held off Vanderbilt last week, and last night they prevailed in a tough game against Ole Miss.

We thought that Tasha Humphrey was back after big games against Vandy and FSU last week. She even earned SEC Player of the Week honors for her work. We hadn’t seen anything yet. In leading Georgia to a 69-60 win over Ole Miss, Humphrey scored 32 and pulled down 14 rebounds. Georgia did a good defensive job on the Rebel guards, outrebounded them in the second half, and cut down on turnovers. If Georgia had been able to hit a few three-pointers, the job would have been a lot easier. Georgia attempted a lot of field goals in the first half – nearly half their total shot attempts – but few fell. After Humphrey hit two quick three-pointers to start the game, they went cold. Coach Landers said afterwards that many of those shots were rushed.

It wasn’t until Megan Darrah hit three huge shots from outside in the second half that things loosened up. Humphrey was good enough in the first half, but once Darrah began to draw defensive attention, Humphrey had a lot more room to operate down the stretch. Strong defense kept Ole Miss from answering, and they were in the tough spot of trying to counter Humphrey’s high percentage inside shots with lower-percentage jump shots. After struggling over the past month, it was great to see Darrah contribute in a big way and find some of the form she had earlier in the season and all of last year.

Georgia made a good statement by taking care of Vandy and Ole Miss, and they made a strong case for being no worse than the third-best team in the conference. Though there’s still more than half of the SEC schedule left, it’s not too early to start thinking about the standings. Because of SEC scheduling quirks, Georgia will have to face Tennessee and LSU twice this year. Ole Miss plays LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, and Vanderbilt only once. With that in mind, Ole Miss should be favored in all of its remaining games except the game at Tennessee. They’ve already beaten LSU and Vanderbilt. Even if they lose at Tennessee, they’ll still only have two conference losses with no games left to play against ranked SEC teams. What that means is that Georgia, already with two conference losses and games still left against LSU and Tennessee, is going to need to take care of their own business and get some help to get a top 3 seed in the SEC Tournament. Next Thursday’s game against LSU in Athens will be tremendously important in terms of the #2-#4 spots in the SEC standings. First things first, though – let’s get a win Sunday and finish a season sweep of Florida.

Post Junior commitments and early signing

Thursday January 25, 2007

Chad Simmons of UGASports.com reported yesterday that Richard Samuel committed to the Georgia football program for its 2008 signing class. Samuel is the sixth junior to commit to the Bulldogs for the 2008 class. Before the class of 2007 has been wrapped up and signed, Georgia is nearly 25% of the way to a typical class of 25 for next year.

It was a big deal a few years ago when A.J. Bryant committed to Georgia on Signing Day as a junior. The special circumstances with Bryant and his dying father made that a huge story, but it was also noteworthy that the commitment came a full year before Bryant could sign. Others follow this much more closely than I, but I don’t remember an earlier commitment at the time. It wasn’t long ago that the first commitments of a recruiting class would come in August or September of the senior year. We’ve since blown that benchmark out of the water; there are now six committed for 2008 who made their pledge even earlier in the process than Bryant did.

All of this leads up to the question, should there be an early signing period in football? After all, junior commitments are nothing new in college hoops, and the NCAA allows them to sign during the autumn of their senior years. Football starts before basketball in college, yet basketball players can sign before footballers.

I see the appeal of the early signing period on both sides. Prospects can make their decisions and focus on more important things like academics and their senior season. Colleges can wrap up prized prospects and not have to worry about stringing them along until February. Bill Curry seems to like the idea, and I can be open about this kind of thing.

The timing seems to be the big sticking point. It’s not likely that the early signing period would happen during the junior year, so that leaves early in the senior year. But that’s right in the thick of the football season. As distracting as recruiting is now, the pressure to make that decision early and make it binding would be even more of a distraction. I think it can be to the benefit of both the prospect and the college to let that senior season play out. As Rich Brooks notes, relying on junior evaluations and limited contact before the senior year to make the decision can be very risky. I would add that it’s potentially risky for both parties. Where basketball can gauge rather well the size and skill of prospects early in the process, the physical development (not to mention damage) that can take place between the junior year and the arrival on a college campus is so much greater for a football player.

It sounds from all accounts that Georgia’s six early commitments are the cream of the crop. If you’ve seen the A.J. Green videos going around, you see why people like our early commitments. I just wonder in which direction this trend will head. Will it become an arms race between schools to get commitments earlier and earlier with more imprecise evaluations? Maybe basketball provides some guidance. Though junior recruiting and early commitments have become a big part of the hoops recruiting process, it’s not like the commitments are spilling over into the underclassmen (at least not yet).

One impact the earlier commitments are having is to diminish the drama of Signing Day and the weeks leading up to it. Again, it wasn’t long ago that as much as half of a recruiting class was filled in the final few weeks leading up to Signing Day. Colleges hosted dozens of prospects on these weekends with the pressure to get handfuls of commitments each time. Those situations still exist, but for many schools January is becoming a time to 1) shore up the commitments you already have and 2) land the three or four remaining pieces to the puzzle. This is an interesting development to me because the attention and suspense heaped on those who hold out until the end is a huge ego boost to those prospects, but it seems as if more are realizing that the real prize is that scholarship to a major program.

I’m not a recruitnik in the sense that I can name the Top 50 prospects in Georgia or that I get bent out of shape about stars and rankings, but this is still pretty interesting stuff to keep an eye on. It’s the future of the program after all, and shifts in how the recruiting classes are assembled are worth keeping an eye on.

Post Kentucky: a football school

Thursday January 25, 2007

What an incredible comeback overtime win over Kentucky for the Georgia basketball team tonight.

They looked dead in the water in the first half. Kentucky led by as many as 17, scored 43 first-half points, and shot over 55% for the half. How was Georgia able to turn it around so dramatically in the second half?

  • Rebounding. Kentucky outrebounded Georgia in the first half. By the end of the game, Georgia had a 43-31 rebounding edge. Georgia outrebounded Kentucky by 15 in the second half alone. That’s pure effort. Very few of the Kentucky second half rebounds were on the offensive glass (I believe Coach Felton said it was as few as two). As a result, Kentucky only had 21 second half field goal attempts.
  • Getting Brown and Gaines going. After impressive showings at Alabama, it was disappointing to see Gaines with just three points and Brown with two points at halftime. What was most disappointing was that Randolph Morris got in foul trouble in the first half, and Georgia didn’t really attack inside. They attempted 15 first half three-point shots and hit only two. Georgia was choosing to play as a perimeter team, and failing at it, when Kentucky was vulnerable inside. That changed in the second half. Brown finished the game with a team-high 20 points as he asserted himself and his teammates got him the ball. Gaines likewise responded in the second half and finished with 19 points. Much of Gaines’s damage came attacking the basket; he hit only one three-point shot in regulation.
  • Help defense. Georgia’s aggressive defense relies a great deal on help and rotation, and they didn’t do it very well in the first half. Kentucky frequently went backdoor or found wide-open men on the weak side as the help was slow or nonexistent. The result was a shooting percentage over 55%. Georgia was much more active in denial of those passes in the second half, and it led to much more difficult shots for the Wildcats; they shot just 33% and scored just 22 points in the second half.

As impressive as the comeback was, they nearly squandered it at the end of regulation. Georgia again saw a lead fade in the final minutes as Kentucky came back from 65-60 to tie the game. The Bulldogs didn’t score in the final three minutes of regulation. Georgia again had the ball with a tie game and less than a minute left, and just as in Saturday’s game at Alabama, a way-off-target desperation heave by Gaines as the shot clock expired was the best shot they could manage. Fortunately Kentucky had less than a second to work with, and Georgia was able to regroup in overtime. Georgia’s going to have to get better at managing leads late in the game and making their final possessions count. It’s mattered in two straight games now and will surely come up again during the remainder of the season.

This big win moves Georgia to 4-2 in conference and has them tied for second in the East with Kentucky and a surprising Vandy team that has defeated three straight ranked opponents since losing at Georgia. Vandy’s latest conquest was LSU in Baton Rouge. Perhaps that’s a good omen – Vanderbilt beat Kentucky last weekend before the Wildcats came to Athens, and LSU will be next up for the Bulldogs this Sunday (right – Sunday at 3:00 and not Saturday).

Post The Butler did it

Tuesday January 23, 2007

Drew Butler, the son of legendary Bulldog placekicker Kevin Butler, has committed to Georgia ($) today after receiving a scholarship offer earlier in the week. Butler will likely have a chance to contribute first as a punter. 2006 punter Gordon Ely-Kelso graduates while placekicker Brandon Coutu will return for his senior season.

Hopefully Butler will be more successful than the last two placekickers who entered Georgia on scholarship. Brett Kirouac found a niche as a kickoff specialist, but that was the extent of his role. Andy Bailey gave way to Coutu in 2004 and has never overcome the inconsistency he showed as a freshman. Bailey got a second chance in 2006 when Coutu was injured, but he still performed poorly under pressure. Georgia’s last two placekickers of impact (Bennett and Coutu) have been walk-ons who eventually earned scholarships, and it was expected that Butler would follow the same path if he chose to attend Georgia. It was a mild surprise that Georgia offered a scholarship. Even Butler was surprised. "I did not see that happening," he told UGASports.com

If Drew does become the placekicker in time, he’ll surely be in the spotlight because of his pedigree, a pressure that surely would have been lessened had he gone to Duke or some other school. But he has chosen to embrace that legacy, and we’ll see if the next Butler can take his place in Georgia history alongside his father.

Post Stegeman is the place to be this week

Tuesday January 23, 2007

If you’re a college sports junkie, this is the kind of week you love to see. Four ranked opponents are coming to Stegeman Coliseum in five days:

  • Wednesday night (7:00): Georgia men vs. #25 Kentucky. Tubby Smith and his fax machine are coming to town, and this is always the hottest ticket of the year for men’s basketball. Kentucky is definitely beatable this year but could be refocused after losing to Vanderbilt over the weekend.
  • Thursday night (7:00): #14 Georgia women vs. #22 Ole Miss. Ole Miss at 5-0 is the early surprise in the SEC standings. They beat LSU at home and have two conference road wins unde their belt, but Georgia will be their first quality road test. Did the Lady Dogs turn a corner against FSU? This game will tell us a lot.
  • Saturday afternoon (4:00): #2 Gym Dogs vs. #1 Florida. This is a regular season turf war. Florida has recently moved into the #1 ranking, and Georgia looked vulnerable last weekend. If Georgia is to remain as favorites for both the national title and SEC title, winning this meet is very important.
  • Sunday afternoon (3:00): Georgia men vs. #22 LSU. This is a big game for a number of basketball-related reasons, but the biggest reason is that Kevin Brophy and his family will be honored at this game. Fans are encouraged to wear red.

Tickets remain for most of these events. Go to georgiadogs.com for more information.

Post Something I really didn’t need to see

Tuesday January 23, 2007

So there I was checking in on the big Duke-Tennessee women’s game last night, and I see this:
Bruce Pearl
Bruce Pearl in a nice show of self-promotion support for the Lady Vols. The Lady Vols were so traumatized that they fell behind 19-0 before getting past the trauma (they still lost, though).

Let’s just all be glad that Pearl was the only Tennessee coach involved here…

Post Weekend hoops – or “How to Finish Games”

Monday January 22, 2007

I’m glad to see some basketball fans like the Georgia Sports Blog looking past some obvious officiating blunders in Georgia’s heartbreaking 78-76 loss at Alabama on Saturday and asking some critical questions about strategy and execution by the Georgia team.

Make no mistake, the officiating in the last 30 seconds would leave even Pac-10 football refs wondering about those calls. Coach Felton is right on when he focused on the calls at the start of the second half. Georgia had about 12 team fouls in the first two minutes of the half (only a slight exaggeration), and I can see how those calls made the Georgia defense, in his words, more "sensitive" to fouling. Was that a contributing factor to Alabama scoring over 40 in the second half or Georgia coming up with fewer transition opportunities? Probably.

To dismiss this loss as just poor officiating is to ignore what Georgia did down the stretch to lose the lead and the game. I think it would be a great disservice to this team to pat them on the backs for playing a Top 10 team that close on the road. It’s not OK to lose games that way.

Let’s not forget – this isn’t the first late double-digit lead that disappeared for the Dawgs this season. They led Western Kentucky by 10 with five minutes remaining before losing that game. Is there something else going on? Once I got past the refs, I had a number of questions about Georgia’s approach to the end of the game:

  • Why was Alabama’s zone defense so effective? Georgia was held to a meager 26 points after an explosive first half. Was the unconscious shooting of Gaines masking some problems in the offense? Where was Stukes or any other guard to bust the zone?
  • What happened on Georgia’s final possession? With over ten seconds left on the shot clock, Georgia had an inbounds play under their own basket. The only shot they could manage was an off-target heave by Gaines as the shot clock ran out. Brown, effective for much of the game, wasn’t involved in the play until he attempted to rebound the Gaines miss. Late-game situations often come down to individual execution and even improvisation (see the last play of the Arkansas game), but we’re still left wondering if that’s the best play they could come up with in that situation.
  • Why are shot selection and clock management still issues? Sometimes the awareness and basketball sense of this team amazes me. You can see it the second that Gaines leaves the game. Why is Newman forcing bad entry passes early in the shot clock? "Toward the end of the game, we started rushing shots, taking quick shots and feeding their momentum," said Gaines. Anyone who has watched the team this year knows that these kinds of decisions are not isolated to one game.

I do disagree with the tone I’ve seen from some postgame fan comments that this game wasn’t important in the big picture or in the context of the postseason. Georgia missed a golden chance at the most valuable of all assets to have in the bank for Selection Sunday – a road conference win against a ranked opponent. It’s very dangerous to pick a conference record like 9-7 or 8-8 and work backwards towards it. True, most probably didn’t count a win at Alabama (or even Arkansas) in their ideal paths to 9-7. Still, each loss puts more pressure on the remaining games and removes a margin of error even from "should win" games like the return trip to Columbia. An SEC win in the hand that gets away isn’t something to write off so quickly.

The Lady Dogs nearly added another layer of misery onto the weekend, but instead they pulled it together for a nice comeback story of their own against FSU. FSU is a decent team this year – they have been ranked and are currently undefeated in the ACC. We knew this nonconference game sandwiched between SEC battles with ranked Vanderbilt and Ole Miss teams was a potential trap, and for 35 minutes it looked like much more than that.

After starting the game up 7-0, Georgia finished the first half with only 21 points. They shot 25% for the half and looked as impotent on offense as they had a week earlier against Tennessee. Tasha Humphrey was the only player hitting shots, and foul trouble once again put her on the bench. Nothing else was falling – around the basket, midrange, perimeter – nothing. For ten minutes, from roughly the 12-minute mark to the 2-minute mark of the first half, a three-point shot from Megan Darrah was the only Georgia basket. For the first time in a while, the team did shooting drills coming out of the locker room for the second half.

Things weren’t quick to improve in the second half. Landers called a timeout just to coach Angel Robinson who was being outworked and pushed around by FSU’s frontcourt. She responded and was the bulk of Georgia’s offense in the second five minutes of the second half. Still, Georgia trailed by 13 with twelve minutes left. They soon got it under ten and even closed within four points with eight minutes left. FSU responded immediately with a four-point possession to extend their lead. It looked to be over when the lead grew to ten at 60-50 with five minutes left. FSU’s Shante Williams was taking control of the game and breaking down Georgia’s defenders off the dribble in isolation.

Georgia quickly got a basket and a steal, and FSU began rushing shots. Georgia scored ten straight points, led by Tasha Humphrey, to make up the difference within just two minutes. Georgia continued to make big plays down the stretch for the win. Defense was solid and smart, and they hit enough free throws to put the game away.

The good news was that Humphrey played even better than she did on Thursday night. With two consecutive good games under her belt, it’s safe to say that she’s rounding back into form. Robinson responded when challenged by Landers and started to matter against FSU’s bulky frontcourt. Again, it needs to be noted that Cori Chambers finished this game and spent much of the second half on the bench. That’s three straight games where Georgia’s leading scorer hasn’t led the team in any respect. She really does need to get it together and play like a senior.

Ole Miss is up next on Thursday, and it’s a mild surprise that they currently lead the SEC with a 5-0 record. They’re ranked and riding high. They have a win over LSU at home to their credit, and they’ll take that momentum on the road to Athens.

Post Lady Dogs rebound with a nice win over Vandy

Friday January 19, 2007

With such a tough time of it against Tennessee last weekend, you’d hope that Georgia could look to its upperclassmen for leadership in the next game against a very good #14 Vanderbilt team.

That’s just what happened. Georgia pulled away from a tough Vanderbilt team in the second half for an 83-71 win last night. It was an upset of sorts as Vandy was the higher-ranked team, but Georgia certainly looked like the better squad. Tasha Humphrey started the game with two three-pointers and looked very much like the Tasha of old while she was on the court. The player of the game might have been senior guard Janese Hardrick who had a huge impact on both ends of the court and ignited Georgia’s second half runs. "I think the person that sparked us the most in the second half was Hardrick," said Coach Landers. She was active on defense, explosive in transition, and hit her free throws down the stretch. It’s the kind of game you’d hope she would have more often as a senior, so we’ll see if similar efforts are to come.

It wasn’t that high-scoring of a game (only 30-29 at halftime), but Vanderbilt’s pressure and fouls led to a very long final five minutes. Georgia was put at the line an incredible 42 times in the game and hit 76% of them – plenty good enough to keep Vanderbilt at a distance as they tried to come back. Vandy took the lead at halftime with a quick nine points from outside, but Georgia soon regained control in the second half by being much more aggressive on offense and attacking the Vandy pressure.

The Lady Dogs were usually able to solve Vanderbilt’s pressure defense, and Vandy’s aggressiveness on defense opened up a lot of chances for ball reversal and open looks. Meanwhile, Vandy was able to get some shots against Georgia’s 2-3 zone, but they were unable to make forward Carla Thomas much of a factor. The differences in the game were Georgia’s ability to create transition opportunities through plays on defense from Houts and Hardrick and then the play of Tasha Humphrey. Humphrey was big from outside in the first half with three three-pointers, and then she was effective inside for really the first time this season. She was only limited by fouls, and a few questionable calls led to her fouling out.

Cori Chambers continued to struggle. Held scoreless from the floor by Tennessee, she had two early three-pointers in this game but went cold. It started affecting other areas of her game, so she spent most of the second half on the bench. That wasn’t the kind of response you’d expect from a senior.

Because this win wasn’t over Tennessee or LSU, it’s pretty easy to overlook its importance. Vandy is a quality team though, and they could have easily beaten Georgia if the Lady Dogs were moping after the Tennessee loss. Georgia goes out of conference to play FSU this weekend at the Russell Athletic Shootout in Duluth, and they’ll face the next SEC challenge next Thursday when #24 Ole Miss comes to town. Ole Miss is playing very well right now, so that game plus this Vanderbilt win could go a long way towards establishing the 3-4-5 spots in the SEC standings.

Post Steve Newman has a posse

Thursday January 18, 2007
Steve Newman - Arkansas

Look who’s 3-1 in the SEC. Look who hit the game-winner.

After the past few seasons, a three-game SEC winning streak and a win in Fayetteville over Arkansas might seem as improbable as senior forward Steve Newman hitting three three-pointers, including a 25-foot shot at the buzzer, to lead Georgia on a 12-2 run at the end of the game. But it’s all true. Newman is the improbable hero, and Georgia is as hot as they’ve been in the league since 2004.

Though it was a close game most of the way, Georgia slowly dug themselves a hole as the end of the game approached. Shots weren’t falling, and Arkansas’s seven-point lead seemed huge in a game that had been back-and-forth. After two wins at home, was it a bit much to expect this team to win in an arena where Georgia had won only once before? As we’re learning, this is a bit different Georgia team.

Though Newman’s game-winner at the buzzer was the highlight, the end of the game was a series of big plays on offense and defense. The win wasn’t possible without any of these plays. From the time that Arkansas took a 62-55 lead with under two and a half minutes left, it took this series of events to get the win:

  • Newman hit his first three-pointer to cut the Arkansas lead to four.
  • After Arkansas made a basket (their last of the game), Newman hit another three-pointer, and the lead was down to three with over a minute left.
  • Georgia’s defense clamped down and forced an Arkansas airball as the shot clock ran out with around 45 seconds remaining.
  • Gaines stroked a long three-pointer to tie the game at about the 30-second mark.
  • Arkansas set up for the final shot, but Gaines tipped the ball away. Takais Brown recovered the loose ball, and Georgia called timeout with seven seconds remaining instead of forcing the ball upcourt.
  • Arkansas used their sixth foul with two seconds left which forced Georgia to inbound the ball again, but it also allowed Georgia to bring Newman back into the game.
  • Newman caught the pass from the left sideline, turned, and fired a 25-foot shot.

To me, the most significant thing about the win was that Georgia won a meaningful game without a strong scoring night from the guards. Georgia’s formula for success over the past few years has been very consistent: it took a big night from one and often several guards. Think about the Gonzaga win this December: Stukes, Gaines, and Mercer combined for 65. Last weekend against Vanderbilt, Stukes and Humphrey had big nights.

Against Arkansas, Georgia was able to weather a spotty night from the guards and still win a road conference game. Stukes was off. Humphrey didn’t do much in the second half. Mercer had 15, but they were scattered throughout the game, and he didn’t do much in the last five minutes. Before they hit four three-pointers to finish the game, the Dawgs were shooting 5-of-19 from outside. That kind of play from the guards usually spells trouble. But in this game, other players stepped up. Brown was able to make some things happen inside. Newman of course was big at the end. Gaines continues to shine later in his career the same way Rashad Wright did. In this game, he had eight assists and no turnovers. He also had the big three to tie it and made the defensive stop to set up the winning shot. Most importantly, a turnover-prone team only turned it over ten times in this game – quite a change from how they were playing a few weeks ago. It’s a big part of the story that Georgia remained determined and found a way to win in such an environment when their usual path to success wasn’t working.

It’s a positive sign that the team is maturing and learning how to come through in different ways. They’ll need that several more times this year in SEC play. This three-game winning streak will be put to the test immediately at Alabama this weekend. #10 Bama is one of the best teams in the SEC, but they’ve also lost in spectacular fashion to Vandy and Arkansas. There is still a long way to go in the season – we were excited over a few January wins last year too. It’s encouraging that the team is proving not to be dependant on one player or one style to win. That development is a good thing, and we’ll see if it will make the difference in a few more SEC wins and a trip to the postseason this year.

Update: Someone already has Newman’s shot on Youtube with Scott Howard’s call. Great stuff.

Post Now that’s representation

Thursday January 18, 2007

Though the usual Congressional proclamations recognizing sports champions are just ceremonial, it doesn’t mean we have to like it when they recognize the Gators as national champions. Kudos to Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston for standing up as the lone dissenting voice. They might be champs, but we don’t have to sign our names to the official ass-kissing. Several others from Georgia, including Barrow, Linder, Deal, and Norwood are at least not among the "yeas". I’m surprised the Idaho delegation didn’t join them.

In fact, we’d like to see more things in government go along school and conference lines. Rule 3-2-5 should have been vetoed. You want legislation to go through? Talk to the SEC Caucus. Sponsor highway bills to connect Starkville with the rest of the civilized world. Disaster aid for hurricanes? Not if you ran up the score last year. Electoral votes could be awarded based on BCS rankings. Just keep Pac 10 instant replay out of the Supreme Court.