Georgia opened the night with five dunks. The sold-out Stegeman Coliseum crowd — the first of many sellouts this season, according to the university — was as into the game as it’d been all winter. It was just like Tom Crean envisioned it, and despite a four-point halftime deficit, there wasn’t a hint of pessimism amongst the Bulldogs fans or players.
Then the second half happened.
That four-point deficit quickly turned into 10. Then 13. The turnovers came back (Georgia finished with 14) and the shots stopped falling. The dunks stopped, too, at least for the home side.
Georgia’s P.A. announcer, Sam Franco, pleaded with fans just after halftime to stand up, and remain standing, for the second half. The team needed them, he said.
To Franco’s credit, most fans did, but only to head to their cars on an ice-cold night that was still somehow warmer than the Bulldogs’ three-point shooting efforts.
“The bottom line is, outside of anything basketball-wise, is our maturity and mental toughness has got to pick up when things aren’t going well for us,” Bulldogs coach Tom Crean said. “That’s not an excuse. Now we have to step it up and keep going.”
So, what went right (yes, there were some things) and wrong for the Bulldogs in their 69-49 loss to the Wildcats?
Right: A promising start
Georgia’s first 11 points of the night came off five dunks and one free throw. Sounds like the precursor to a convincing blowout win, doesn’t it?
For a while, it looked like it was shaping up to be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. And for one half, it was. The game’s three lead changes all happened before the break. The Bulldogs led by as many as five (with 14:14 left in the first half).
“Can you imagine that (Georgia started with five straight dunks)?” said Wildcats coach John Calipari. “It was two guys on our team, not talking and getting beat, and all the sudden, I’m like, ‘wait a minute, we gave them five dunks. Like, is this going to be a 100-point game?’”
“In the game of basketball, if one guy breaks down, you’re going to struggle. If two break down, they get five dunks.”
Right: Stegeman’s sold-out atmosphere
Well, at least before the game got out of hand.
Whether or not Crean can use the home environment as a true recruiting factor is to be determined, because it’s still quite early in the season, but Tuesday night served as a promising start amidst Georgia’s brutal schedule to conference play.
“Absolutely, (the crowd) is part of it,” Crean said. “That’s what people want to see. We’ve got to be able to show that everything you could possibly want is here (at UGA).”
It was a hard sellout. The Bulldogs’ game against Florida Saturday (noon, CBS) is too, per UGA. The vibe surrounding UGA’s basketball program is noticeably different, although the results may not come immediately.
Of course, the raucous environment was undone by a certain Kentucky freshman with hometown ties.
Wrong: The Ashton Hagans show
All the buzz before tipoff, understandably, surrounded Wildcats freshman guard Ashton Hagans and the reception he would get from the Stegeman crowd.
For those unaware, Hagans was a one-time Georgia commit until former coach Mark Fox was shown the door. When UGA said goodbye to Fox, it did so to Hagans’ commitment as well, and the Cartersville native was soon headed for Lexington.
And, well, Hagans showed Georgia just what it was missing out on Tuesday night. Hagans scored a career-best 23 points and added four assists. He scored the Wildcats’ first six points of the second half, which ultimately sparked the run that ended Georgia’s comeback chances.
“We didn’t emphasize anything about Ashton’s commitment to here,” said Bulldogs guard Turtle Jackson, as teammate Nicolas Claxton shook his head. “It really wasn’t anything personal.”
So, there’s that. Hagans, for what it’s worth said similar things after the game.
15 of Hagans’ points came after halftime, which leads perfectly into…
Wrong: Second-half disaster
…yet another second-half collapse by the Bulldogs, this time at home, against a team that possesses the talent to punish it.
14 points off turnovers. 16 scores in 34 possessions. 20 points in the paint. A 34-18 advantage in second-half points.
What became a second-half masterclass by Kentucky was, conversely, Georgia’s downfall. To only score 18 second-half points is bad enough, bu to do it against Kentucky is lethal, sold-out home court or not.
“We didn’t come out with the right mentality,” Claxton said. “… It definitely gets frustrating. I can’t tell you exactly what (the second-half issue) is, it just seems to be our Achilles heel.”
Added Jackson: “We’ve got to learn from this. We’ve got to come out with a different mindset.”
Wrong: Bulldogs ice-cold from deep
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Georgia shot 4-for-27 (14 percent) from three-point range and 2-for-14 after the break.
There’s really not much else that needs to be said here, except that the Gators hold their opponents to 31 percent from deep, on average. So that’ll need to improve, surely, if the Bulldogs hope to spring an upset over rival UF on Saturday.