Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

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.

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