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Post Air Force humbles Dawgs in worst loss of the year

Tuesday March 20, 2007

Georgia’s men’s basketball season ended last night with a lesson in offensive execution and defensive intensity. Air Force took advantage of Georgia’s overaggressive man defense and lack of athleticism to roll to an easy 83-52 win last night. The Falcons spread the court and left Georgia’s big men standing in cement at the high post as Air Force ran cut after cut at the basket. When the cuts didn’t result in easy baskets, quick ball movement and reversal led to open three-point looks, and Air Force knocked down 11 of those.

The loss ends the season with a 19-14 record. It’s an improvement, but losses like this show how fragile the program still is. "The things that they do just really showed our weakness," said Levi Stukes after his final game as a Bulldog. So much of what Georgia was able to do this year was dependent on matchups, and they were a team built for the physical play of the SEC.

The lessons didn’t stop with offensive execution. "They switched up their defense a lot," Stukes said. "They went from a match-up zone to a 1-2-2 (zone). They were doing all kind of things out there to get us hesitant on offense." Tight Air Force zone defense early on frustrated Georgia inside the arc. The Bulldogs made only one two-point basket in the game’s first 13 minutes and settled for a lot of the three-point-shots-by-default that we’ve all come to dread at times this year. Takais Brown never got going. As bad as things were going on defense, the Bulldog offense had as many turnovers as made field goals (16). Only Terrance Woodbury scored in double-figures. Meanwhile, Georgia continued to get burned by overpursuit and slow recovery in their own defense.

Dennis Felton came into the program four years ago preaching defensive intensity. But that intensity was somehow missing yet again in a road game. "We were real nonchalant on defense," said Sundiata Gaines. A last-minute flurry at Arkansas notwithstanding, Georgia had only one really solid showing on the road this year, and that was at South Carolina.

While it might seem as if Georgia is a win or two away from a spot in the NCAA Tournament, those additional wins might require more improvement than you think. The Dawgs have to learn to play with purpose and fire on the road. They need additional personnel and coaching creativity to adapt against different kinds of challenges. The zone used against Fresno State was a good example of that adaptation, but the team was lost and looked unprepared for the complex Air Force offense.

I’ll have some more thoughts about the future of the program later, but last night showed us that while the program has come a long way, there is a difference between being able to do the math to slide into a postseason tournament and simply being a really good team.

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