NEW ORLEANS – Mark Fox insisted he was not concerned about the turnaround his team faced in playing on back-to-back nights in the SEC tournament. But the Bulldogs looked a step slow Friday night as they fell to Vanderbilt for the third time this season, 63-41 this time.
Despite much evidence to the contrary, Fox was still hesitant to admit fatigue was a factor.
“We just didn’t defend well enough,” said Fox, who saw the Commodores outscore his team 39-16 in the second half. “That would be unfair to Vanderbilt to say that. Our defense was pretty good in the first half, but I think they made their first five or six shots to start the second half, and I really think that was the big key. . . . Our defense failed us.”
That poor defense probably had something to do with tired legs. The Bulldogs fought hard and played one of their better games in defeating Mississippi State 61-51 on Friday. But they looked completely different 22 hours later.
After having five players score in double figures in the opening round, Georgia had just one Saturday and that was Dustin Ware with 10 points. Gerald Robinson, who had 23 the previous night, scored just three. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s two points were 11 fewer than he had in the game 22 hours before.
In fact, Georgia’s five starters totaled just 15 points combined.
“Definitely, fatigue got to us a little bit,” said freshman forward Nemanja Djurisic, who had 7 points and 5 turnovers in 30 minutes after posting an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double on Thursday. “They shot the ball much better in the second half. We stayed with them as long as we could, but we were in foul trouble the whole time and we just couldn’t pull it out.”
Robinson was nearly unstoppable on the dribble-drive against State, but he was 1-of-6 Saturday and attempted just two foul shots against Vandy.
“Maybe a little bit,” Robinson said of being tired, “but that’s part of basketball. You’ve got to learn how to play through that. Tonight we just weren’t able to overcome that. We dug ourselves a hole in the second half and just couldn’t overcome it and get over the hump.”
Vandy was led by John Jenkins with 15 points, though that represented 13 fewer than he had versus UGA in Athens last month. Brad Tinsley added 12. The Commodores were only 6-of-25 from 3-point range but scored most of their baskets at the time.
The victory gave Vanderbilt a three-game sweep of the Bulldogs this season. Seeded No. 3 in the tournament, the Commodores (22-10) advance to the semifinals where they’ll take on No. 7 seed Ole Miss (20-12) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Vandy is likely to encounter another tired team. The Rebels needed overtime to defeat Tennessee 77-72 in a game that ended after 10 p.m.
Kentucky and Florida will meet in the other semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m. after hard-fought matchups in the quarterfinals. The Gators (23-9) defeated Alabama 66-63 while the Wildcats (31-1) rallied late to edge LSU 60-51.
Georgia was looking to crash the weekend party at the tournament for the first time since 2008 when it made its unexpected run to the championship in Atlanta. But the Bulldogs appeared to run out of gas in the second half against Vanderbilt.
After forging a 25-24 halftime lead, Georgia was outscored 12-2 over the first four minutes of the second half. They briefly got Vandy’s lead back down to four with Ware’s second 3-pointer at the 14:36 mark, but then the Bulldogs didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By then they had fallen behind by 15 points.
Ware provided the lone highlight for the Bulldogs. His 3-pointer 6:10 into the contest gave him 1,000 points for his career. He becomes the 42nd Bulldog to accomplish the feat.
“I guess it feels good,” said Ware, whose career ends with 1,007 points. “I wish I could have left on a win, but it’s definitely an accomplishment. It’s something I set out to do and I was glad I was able to accomplish it. ”
Georgia hung tough for the first 20 minutes. In fact, despite serious foul trouble in the first half, the Bulldogs led 25-24 at halftime.
Just like in the first-round against Mississippi State, starters Caldwell-Pope, Donte Williams and Marcus Thornton were all on the bench with two fouls apiece just 11 minutes into the contest.
But once again, other players stepped up in their absence. Rarely-used freshman center John Cannon led UGA with 6 points on 1-of-1 shooting and 4-for-4 foul shooting in the opening half. Junior guard Sherrard Brantley came off the bench and played 12 minutes and grabbed four defensive rebounds and 2 points. Even Tim Dixon, who has played all of 10 minutes since January, got in two minutes of work and grabbed two rebounds in that time.
“That’s as bad a foul trouble as we maybe have been in all year,” Fox said. “We have
had a couple games like that. But our bench was good in the first half, but we certainly had to go a little deeper into it than most coaches would ever plan on.”