Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Sleepwalking nearly turns into a nightmare

Thursday February 15, 2007

The Dawgs overcame a six-point second half deficit last night to avoid a huge upset at the hands of Kennesaw State. With Georgia still in the discussion for a postseason bid, a loss in this game would have been devastating. With the game tied coming out of the final official timeout, Georgia finished strong, hit their free throws, and got some key backbreaking shots from their upperclassmen. We had hoped this would be a game in which the Dawgs regrouped and built on the win at South Carolina, but instead they got caught in a fight for survival.

Though Georgia shot well from the floor and the free throw line, they only had 48 field goal attempts. Kennesaw did a lot to minimize Georgia’s possessions. They had 15 offensive rebounds. They used the clock well to shorten the game. Most importantly, they took advantage of Georgia’s carelessness and created 18 turnovers including 14 steals. Though Kennesaw only got 18 points off those Georgia turnovers, they still meant empty possessions for Georgia.

Like many, I looked at the game as a glimpse of what life would be like without Mike Mercer. While we can’t say how things would have gone with him in the lineup, we can at least look at the areas where he usually had an impact. The first obvious one is on defense. Kennesaw had a 6’4" guard hit six three-pointers as Georgia’s wing defense suffered without Mercer. Turnovers were another problem – Humphrey , expected to be Gaines’s backup at point guard, had a team-high four turnovers.

The biggest difference without Mercer might have been in Georgia’s offensive mindset. They only attempted 15 three-pointers in the game. Georgia has often attempted over 15 three-pointers in the first half alone. The Bulldogs eventually got past what Humphrey called "selfish" play and finally worked the ball inside. They shot over 60% in the second half while attempting only four three-pointers. They fed the ball to Takais Brown, and Sundiata Gaines was effective getting to the basket. When it came down to it, Georgia leaned on their two emerging go-to guys, and they responded. Though turnovers were a problem, Georgia got the ball to their playmakers, and the shots were efficient. That’s a positive development, and we’ll see if they carry that into the Auburn game or fall back into bad habits.

The one really big thing to take away from this game is that while we kick around what-ifs about the end of the season, this team is not good enough to overcome poor effort in SEC games. Though there are several chances to earn wins coming up, playing flat or with less-than-optimal effort will likely result in a loss in any remaining game.

It was disappointing to hear coaches and players acknowledge that the team was flat. They’ve worked so hard and have such a great opportunity in front of them, and they nearly blew it all last night because they weren’t up for the game. Sure, it wasn’t an SEC game or a big-name opponent. Sure, the crowd was lethargic. Sure, the team might still be a bit numb from the loss of Mercer. Regardless of the opponent you’d still hope for a bit more instensity, hustle, and focus from a team with so much to play for and less than a month left in the regular season.

What should give us a bit of concern is that it seems as if the team is struggling to buy into good game plans and coaching. Humphrey admitted, "We didn’t come in with the game plan that we had planned to do, and we got exposed by it. It really should’ve gone to the post every time down court because their tallest player was 6-6. We went away from that and played selfish again." I’m glad he recognized that fact and demonstrated why Georgia was able to be so effective at the end of the game, but why in the world at this point in the season are we still talking about guys getting away from the game plan? That’s a red flag for the stretch run if guys continue to freelance and get away from scouting reports and game plans. Tournament teams need cohesiveness, discipline, and a good strategy.

We can hope that they just sleepwalked against a and that their heads will be in the game starting on Saturday. Georgia had a run of sluggish starts before the nice win at South Carolina; it was almost as if the emotional stretch leading up to the "Do it for Broph" win over LSU took its toll on the intensity of the team. The home crowd should be back in force for Auburn; there are only a handful of tickets left. Though all of the remaining games are important now, a home game against an SEC West opponent is as close to a must-win as there is.

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