There was much to shake up and it was not just the starting lineup.
It was not a tale of two halves or even a better played Second Half from Yante Maten that explain how this game went. Georgia’s victory over LSU was about doing things differently from past games and how LSU Head Coach Will Wade unintentionally fed into this change.
It Started with the Starting Lineup
E’Torrion Wilridge and Rayshaun Hammonds did not start in the game tonight, in fact, Wilridge did not see any action at all at a venue that is rather close to home. Instead Teshaun Hightower and Juwan Parker received the starting roles. It was a puzzling decision to see Hightower and Jackson together on the floor considering that Mark Fox only trains his Freshmen to play one position at a time, but there was Hightower playing the Shooting Guard spot and defending Skylar Mays in the First Half. It was surreal to see and it was a clear message that Mark Fox was getting desperate and he wanted one of his best backcourt defenders to play more. Strong defense earns you playing time.
The Team Starts Tight, But It’s Not Alarming
The defensive effort from the Starting Five was always there in the first five minutes of the game and the offense lagged, but it was not terribly disturbing. There was a back-and-forth flow that did not seem terribly contrived, Georgia even enjoyed a lead during this segment of the game.
It turns disturbing without Hightower
It would turn macabre for the rest of the half as Teshaun Hightower would go to the bench and the offense resorted to running the same two sets like they always do in road games. It was going to be like the Missouri game at this rate. The pace of play was disturbingly slow and LSU knew exactly where the passes were going. The sets were robotic as always and there was a lack of energy.
Georgia was a jump shooting team trying to force things to happen that were simply not there. Turnovers and bad shots resulted, it was a bad time for all. LSU’s press intimidated the Dawgs and the offense was not willing to attack. There was too much of an effort to finesse this win away and that’s just not a recipe for wins.
The focus on choreography over the objective of scoring baskets was set to derail the team.
The Aggressive Push Coming out of Halftime
No more jump shots, just get to the rim. Forget the sets, just attack. That’s what happened. Not so surprisingly, good things resulted from the simplistic and libertine approach. Teshaun Hightower took to the more natural approach and so did the rest of the Starting Lineup. It was very uncharacteristic for this team to play like this and it resulted in Georgia getting a lead after being down 10. It’s amazing what this team can do when they stop running sets and just look to push it to the basket.
Georgia went on a 22-7 run to start the half by simply defending, grabbing a rebound or getting a live ball turnover and then running as little Half Court Offense as possible. If it is not clear enough, Georgia is very good at being their own worst enemy. The pace of play picked up considerably, which favored Georgia.
This run was able to go on for 8 1/2 minutes because Will Wade switched from man to zone, which allowed Georgia to not have to run sets like they did in the First Half. Granted, Wade went with three different defenses in the First Half, especially in the first ten minutes, but he did settle into the Man-to-Man.
The Pace Slows Down Again with an Unusual Culprit
LSU was not shooting like they were on fire tonight at all. However, the rebounder of the missed shot dictated the pace of the offensive possession. If it was Juwan Parker, the Dawgs were going to push and if it was Yante Maten, Turtle Jackson was going to run a set. It became very evident that when the pace slowed down, it benefited the LSU Defense because the pace and aggression went together.
The slowed pace put LSU back into a position to re-take the lead. Georgia also reverted to looking for three point shots when they had such success just attacking the basket at-will.
Everything Eventually Became More Simplified
In the last two minutes, the sets were far more simplified or in some cases non-existent. The Yante Maten screen and slip was according to him a Pick and Option to Slip or Fade. Maten read the defense and chose to slip, which resulted in the game winning basket.
Basic ball rotation off penetration from Teshaun Hightower set up Juwan Parker to knock down a three from the top of the key to take the lead. There’s no set that instructs this, it’s just natural read-and-react basketball.
Hightower was breaking sets periodically in this game and it made a huge difference. Hightower was willing to attack the basket and draw fouls, even though he struggled mightily at the Free Throw Line. It even helped him on defense as he picked up a pair of steals, including one that resulted in an intentional foul. Hack-A-Hightower is going to be thing until Hightower can shoot better from the Free Throw Line, but his energy, defensive capabilities and willingness to break the offense to help his teammates is important.
Ultimately… Mark Fox Just Let Them Play
It’s odd to see Mark Fox smile in a huddle, but he did after his team had the lead and Yante Maten had a pair of Free Throws to shoot. Fox stopped micromanaging and he just let his team play like themselves for much of the Second Half.
Fox did not pull Teshaun Hightower for breaking sets. Hightower may have earned his time because Turtle Jackson was reticent about driving to the basket against South Carolina and Hightower does not need permission to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Hightower’s defense also warranted the playing time, he made mistakes and Fox did not pull him because Hightower’s mistakes were out of aggression. Hightower and Jackson both took Tremont Waters out of any sort of a rhythm tonight, which is an accomplishment.
What lessons this game in Baton Rouge will provide and what the team takes away from this game is unknown, but winning a conference game after losing two straight conference games is a good sign. A third loss in a row would put this Georgia team with the six others that failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Georgia fought themselves tonight, escaped the darkness and now have to realize who they are or else they may fall right back into that dark place. The timing is right for a turnaround and it is up to Mark Fox to continue the intensity from the Second Half going into their next game, which is a trip to Auburn Arena.