After all, when you are up by 23 with 11:11 to go in the second half you shouldn’t have to discuss end-of-game strategies.
But somehow Mark Fox and the Bulldogs were sitting in the same spot they were a few weeks ago when they lost to Florida in Athens – up three and defending with only seconds to go in the game.
Fox made sure in the last timeout that everyone was on the same page.
“I didn’t ask them if they wanted to foul,” Fox made clear after the game. “I asked them if they trusted their defense. I thought it was important for them to be vocal about that. We were not going to foul. I needed our team to commit to one another.”
That was a decisive and smart coaching decision. Fouling in those situations, particularly against a team who is shooting 20% from behind the arc at that moment, is not smart. It also undermines your team’s confidence in its own defense.
At some point teams have to decide that they want to win. When the moment of truth comes you have to move your feet, box out, fight through screens and make plays.
Trey Thompkins’ game-winning block did just that – and probably will be a key moment in what looks like Georgia’s steady, but at times unspectacular march to the NCAAs.
As impressive as Georgia’s first half was – the second half was underwhelming… leaving much to be desired, but fouling up three would have sent a message to these Dawgs: “I am not confident in you, and you have no reason to be confident in yourselves.” And that’s not the message Mark Fox needs to send to his team right now – late in the SEC schedule. Actually, fouling up three doesn’t make sense to me ever.
Georgia avoided a bad loss, has put a three-game SEC win streak together and inched closer to the NCAA finish line with Saturday’s 60-56 win. But the Bulldogs held a dominant lead in the first half, and late in the second half.
“The whole second half I was wondering when the clock was going to start,” Thompkins admitted after the game. “Early leads don’t last in this league.”
But Georgia’s biggest lead – 23 – wasn’t exactly early in the game. The Bulldogs were up that much with only 11:11 to go in the game. Carolina was dead. Half-filled Colonial Coliseum was emptying. Even the quarter-filled (if that) student section was losing that classic Carolina optimism. You could hear a “boo” or two out there.
Then, the Cocks stared pressing – and it worked because Georgia’s guards started acting like they played for Georgia during Dennis Felton’s last year (when guards seemed to have two left hands).
“The press got to us,” Travis Leslie said. “Mental mistakes.”
“I said to them (about the press): ‘Guys, what are we doing here?’” Fox said of clinging to a lead that was slipping away by the minute.
It didn’t look like anyone knew what they were doing for a few minutes.
Georgia can’t continue to play like this (the second half performance) and expect good things to happen over the next few weeks. Yes, they won, and that’s all that matters, but they do need to close better at the end of games.
Was Saturday about Georgia losing a huge lead late? Was it about Carolina’s woeful first-half offensive production? Nine points is pretty pathetic. Was it that Georgia now has a three-game winning streak in the conference? Was Saturday about Georgia actually winning on the road – no matter how unimpressively the play was in the second half?
“We just stayed together. Coach had faith in us… he knew we could do it,” Thompkins said.
A lot of folks have faith in Georgia’s basketball team these days. They have some of the best talent in the SEC – and usually have three of the best four players on the floor at any given time.
“We know how good we can be,” Leslie said.
Fans and observers know that, too. For one half Georgia showed just how good they can be; the other half they showed just how unfocused they can be, too.
“We might have become complacent,” Thompkins said of the second half.
That's not going to work. Complacency will get this team upset sometime soon.
If the Bulldogs, who are admittedly “not the perfect team” according to Fox, can play more like they did in the first half they will go a long way - at least the Sweet 16.
“We were happy Trey got the block at the end,” Leslie said with a smile.
Thankfully Fox and company decided to play defense on the last possession, which was a wise non-decision.