It may have indeed been, as the headline put it, “one and done” for the Georgia Bulldogs in this year’s NCAA tournament, but Mark Fox’s players still can hold their heads high.
After years of being an SEC doormat, the Dogs were picked for the tournament in just Fox’s second year as coach and managed to make a game of it against a higher seed that’s become a regular at the Dance.
The streaky first half, which saw both teams hot and cold at times, held great promise, as Georgia kept the high-scoring Washington Huskies from setting the fast pace they like and played some tough defense. The Dogs even led by as much as seven points, as U-Dub shot poorly for much of the half and their star Isaiah Thomas was held to a mere four points while Georgia’s Trey Thompkins was superb, with 15 points and eight rebounds.
But the problems that plagued Georgia all season were still present at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, and one of them was turnovers, which allowed the Huskies to get back into the game and tie it 28-28 at the half. The other was depth. Georgia only had three players score in the first half: Thompkins, Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie (who had a highlight-reel breakaway dunk).
Then another perennial Bulldog problem cropped up, as the Dogs got off to a poor start in the second half, not helped by a horrendous goaltending call against Leslie that the replay showed was clearly wrong. Fox was justifiably enraged.
Shooting much better than in the first half, Washington continued the way it had closed that half, going on a 17-5 run that gave them a 10-point lead and then managed to hold serve for much of the rest of the game.
Thompkins was stymied for much of the second half, though he eventually finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Georgia was hurt inside by having to keep big man Jeremy Price on the bench much of the time because of foul trouble, which meant the Dogs didn’t have much going offensively to counter their lack of an outside game. And, again, the turnovers hurt. For the evening, the Huskies turned 15 Georgia turnovers into 17 points.
Another big factor that had recurred all season: Lack of a bench. The Huskies had eight players score and got 28 points from their supporting cast while Georgia’s bench contributed nothing. Zero points.
As the clock ticked away, a feeling of inevitability settled in and yet the Dogs still made a game of it late. Having trailed by eight with 36 seconds to play, a combination of a big 3-pointer by Thompkins and some mistakes by the Huskies saw Fox’s Hounds pull to within two with 3.7 seconds to play. When a Huskie missed the second of a pair of foul shots, the game was there for the taking, but a long pass downcourt was disrupted by Thomas, Washington’s Mr. Everything, and a desperation last shot never really looked on target.
So the season ends for the Bulldogs, who never quite became a great team thanks to that lack of a bench and too many second half collapses, but managed to be competitive against almost everyone they played and, as athletic director Greg McGarity noted the other day, made Georgia basketball relevant again.
Thompkins, who probably played his last game for the Dogs, summed it up nicely afterward when he said, “Being in the tournament is a blessing; it’s an experience that I feel like every ballplayer should have while they’re in college. It takes a lot to get here and we’ve worked so hard as a team. Coach reminded us every day that we were good enough to win in the tournament. And we just fell short.”
Baby steps, as they say. Georgia made the NCAA tournament without having to do so through a freaky SEC tournament run, and this year that’s worth celebrating.
Next time, we’ll expect them to stay on the dance floor longer.
Find me on Facebook.
Follow me on Twitter.
— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg