NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s been a while since Georgia head coach Mark Fox has varied his substitution pattern up.
In Saturday’s 93-80 loss to Kentucky, Fox sure went with a unique method that worked incredibly well and kept Georgia in the game throughout.
In each half, Fox sent freshman forward E’Torrion Wilridge into the game as the first sub for senior guard Charles Mann. From there, he began rotating up to five players at a time. The strategy, especially in the first half, worked with Georgia’s fresh legs being able to run the floor on offense and play more aggressively on defense.
"The pattern kept us fresh as possible, as long as we could," senior guard J.J. Frazier said. "It was a good game plan and it kept us fresh until the bitter end."
Part of the strategy was due to Georgia coming off of two consecutive night games against Mississippi State and South Carolina, both of which were physical and energy-zapping.
The strategy drew a ton of praise from Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who began his post-game news conference’s opening statement by talking about Fox’s decision.
"Mark Fox had an unbelievable game plan of what they were going to do to beat us. He platooned," Calipari said. "Think about what he did. He totally changed how they were going to play because he knew it was their third game in three days. They went right after us inside. They put us in pick-and-rolls with our (post players) and let their guards go.
"I said to my staff, the dude’s coaching his butt off today now."
CALIPARI LOBBIES FOR GEORGIA
With Georgia’s postseason fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, Calipari stated the case for the Bulldogs to earn admission.
"They’re 10-8 in our league," Calipari said. "They’re one of the semifinalists. They should be in."
Georgia has certainly made things interesting after a stunning loss to Auburn just a few weeks ago.
It’s since won five consecutive games before falling to Kentucky in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. The Wildcats (25-8) weren’t able to pull away until the game's final four minutes.
"I do,” Calipari said when asked about Georgia being a tournament team. "I mean, what I saw today, how they played today. They've won five in a row. So when you talk about teams, how they’re playing at the end of the year, it’s like us. If you would have rated us a month ago, you would have said, where do you seed these guys?"
Calipari also spoke on the behalf of Vanderbilt and South Carolina as he thinks those teams deserve bids too.
"Vanderbilt had a tough loss against Tennessee," Calipari said. "We lost to Tennessee. There are other teams that had tough losses in tournament play. They lost. Well, that doesn’t affect them. Well it shouldn’t affect Vanderbilt. South Carolina should be in. They held out their best player for the NCAAs. They didn’t want to – probably his own welfare also, but that shouldn’t affect South Carolina."
Georgia freshman guard Turtle Jackson saved his best game of the season for the SEC semifinals.
Jackson finished with a career-high 9 points on 3-of-5 shooting, with all of his points coming from behind the 3-point line. Jackson, who has played sparingly down the stretch, was a big part of the platoon that Fox elected to go with against Kentucky.
"We talked about it last night after the game," Jackson said. "He looked us freshmen all in the eye and said we needed to step up and all be ready (Saturday). It was mentally preparing and being ready."
Jackson played 15 minutes and held a good command of the offense when he was running the point.
Fox’s speech Friday evening did enough to keep Jackson loose in what was the biggest game at an incredibly important of the season.
"Coach Fox told us we could run and play like it’s the playground," Jackson said. "That stuck with me. I prayed about it and I just felt like I was in the backyard playing."