(Author’s Note: In response to a constructive criticism, I have attempted to be slightly less ill-informed in my instantaneous roundball wrapup. I’m still far less knowledgeable than some fans, of course, but I’m making the effort. Your patience is appreciated and your insights are welcome, both in the comments below and in the fanposts to the right.)
Every Georgia fan’s fear heading into Wednesday night’s basketball game in Knoxville was that Bruce Pearl would have his team fired up and the Tennessee Volunteers would leap out to a large lead, much as Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs did when the Red and Black got the better of the Big Orange in the Classic City.
Instead, neither team established a torrid tempo in the early going; at one point in the opening minutes of the game, both teams were shooting 20 per cent from the field. There were, however, some initial positive indicators for the Hoop Dogs, as the visitors started out winning the turnover battle and getting production from the bench.
Both teams picked up the pace later in the first half, and, at the break, Georgia led 29-24 on the road. Although that advantage represented a margin narrower than the previous Bulldog lead, the visitors were hitting higher percentages of field goals, three-pointers, and free throws. Counting shots from the charity stripe, the Fox Hounds had heaved the ball toward the basket 44 times to the Tennesseans’ 43. The Red and Black had been charged with fewer fouls, had committed fewer turnovers, and had pulled down seven more defensive rebounds than their hosts at intermission. For once, it was looking good for the road team.
The lead did not last long once the second half got underway. Travis Leslie’s subpar shooting carried over past intermission, enabling the Volunteers to tie the game at 37 on a J.P. Prince dunk with a little under four minutes elapsed after the break. Tennessee took the lead on a fastbreak layup by Bobby Maze with a little over fifteen and a half minutes remaining. From there, the better team took charge and carded a 69-60 victory.
I am not one to treat losing less badly than anticipated as a positive development, and particularly not when that setback occurs in the former hometown of Lane Kiffin, the king of the moral victory. There are signs of progress here and there, but they are slow to unfold and, at the end of the evening, they are not producing victories.
Coach Fox deserves time to remake this program into one that can win, but, in the meantime, while we are forced to wait patiently with our teeth gritted, what we have is a team that cannot emerge triumphant twice consecutively and cannot do anything other than lose on the road. The best that can be said is that the glass is half-full because the glass was completely empty when it was handed to Mark Fox. Only half-empty represents real progress for the program with the weakest roundball tradition in the SEC.