The Georgia Bulldogs have history with the Xavier Musketeers. It was Xavier that ended Georgia’s 2008 Cinderella run to the NCAA Tournament. It was Xavier that harmed Georgia’s resume heading into the 2011 NCAA Tournament. On Friday night, it was 12th-ranked Xavier that embarrassed Georgia at the Cintas Center by a 70-56 final margin.
In the early going, the Red and Black did a better job of working the ball inside, but the Fox Hounds shot poorly when they got into the paint, they were ice-cold from beyond the arc, and they were generally sloppy in their ballhandling. Nearly seven and a half minutes elapsed before the Bulldogs got on the board; prior to that point, Georgia had missed eleven shots from the field and five from three-point range.
The Musketeers, playing on a week’s rest after surrendering 60 or more points in each of their first three games, took advantage of this early Athenian cold spell, building up a 10-0 lead by transforming Bulldog turnovers into fast-break points. The Red and Black did not run the floor well with their hosts on these coast-to-coast scampers, necessitating that Mark Fox rapidly burn through his timeouts in the first half in an effort to settle down his youthful squad. Joel D wrote before the game that "[t]he best way to keep Georgia from packing the defense is to make them chase the game," and Xavier certainly did its part to dictate the tempo.
As a result, the Hoop Dogs were trailing, 28-19, at the half, despite shooting 83.3 per cent (5 of 6) from the free throw line, and it wasn’t hard to see why: Georgia had one assist, one steal, no blocks, and eleven turnovers in a first half in which the Classic City Canines were outscored 20-6 in the paint and shot 21.4 per cent (6 of 28) from the field and 14.3 per cent (2 of 14) from downtown.
Though the Athenians had 16 rebounds to the Cincinnatians’ 19 prior to intermission, Xavier had 15 defensive rebounds to Georgia’s eight offensive rebounds. When you’re not making shots, you can’t afford to be outhustled on the boards and deprived of desperately-needed second chances. Before the break, Vincent Williams (3 of 7) had as many field goals as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (0 of 4), Gerald Robinson (1 of 3), Marcus Thornton (0 of 2), Dustin Ware (1 of 6), and Donte Williams (1 of 4) combined.
This set the stage for a second half in which the Bulldogs’ lack of refinement remained on full display. The Musketeers opened the final 20 minutes on a 12-0 run during which the home team drained four of seven from the field and four of four from the charity stripe. Undisciplined play---in ball security, in shot selection, in fouling, in rebounding---defined the performance of a talented yet inexperienced Georgia squad attempting to rely too much on raw ability and not enough on smart teamwork. On Tuesday night, this team took one step forward; on Monday night and tonight, this team took two steps back. This does not mean this season will not see progress, but only that there will be many, many growing pains along the way.
As I noted earlier in the month, we are planning a Dawg Sports group outing to the Fox Hounds’ December 23 home game against Furman. Some folks who weren’t able to make this year’s Goat Roast will be home for Christmas, so we’re taking the opportunity to purchase block seating for a group to go to the game. We’ll continue discussing this as the game approaches, but please take this opportunity to get in on the fun. If you’re interested in attending, leave a comment to that effect below, and someone from the masthead will be contacting you at the e-mail address provided on your profile.