Tom Crean, UGA Take Out Gators

March 2, 2019
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ATHENS - You always want to play your best basketball in March. Georgia is doing that. 

Not that “playing your best basketball in March” was a real heavy lift for this team. Anyone who watched how UGA spent the previous two months knows that. Still, the Dawgs moved to 2-14 in the SEC and 11-18 overall after taking out the Gators 61-55 in Gainesville Saturday night. 

It was a big win to be sure. 

Georgia is playing better. The last-possession losses to Auburn, Ole Miss and State were signs that things were getting better. Yes, sometimes things do get better when you lose - certainly better than blowout losses to A&M, the Rebels and Alabama. 

Tom Crean, in his first year, seems to be getting through to his team. And tonight that resulted in a win that gives Georgia momentum at the end of the season. Conversely, the loss for the Gators hurts badly. Florida was firmly in the NCAAs coming into the night. But they could arrive in Nashville on a three-game losing streak and with a lot of pressure to win at least twice there to make themselves feel OK about playing in the Big Dance. 

If Florida gets to Nashville at 17-14… that’s Mark Fox territory.

Maybe the Gators thought UGA would revert to their old selves, but that didn’t happen. Georgia kept turnovers manageable (15), leaned on Nic Claxton (25 points) and played intelligent ball under the two-minute mark. Georgia was the better team for most of the game, and closed it out in a way it hasn’t closed out a game since before Christmas. 

When trigger happy Tyree Crump had the ball with the Dawgs up two with 38 seconds to go, Crean called a timeout. He wasn’t going to let this one get away. Out of the timeout, UGA reset and got the ball to Jordan Harris, who drove and scored to pretty well put the game away. 

We’ve not seen that in the recent past. We’ve watched as the Dawgs have been inefficient and not crisp offensively. We’ve seen Georgia lose right at the end because they didn’t execute, which is the one thing that matters at the end of basketball games. 

Are you in the right spot? Who has the ball to close the game? Are you comfortable with what you have called? Respecting the ball and making smart choices is critical to the outcome of games. Georgia did both Saturday night. It has been a little less fluid in doing so in the recent past. 

But, sitting at 11-18, dare I say this team could go on a run. Look at the schedule - Missouri (13-15) at home, and then a trip to Cootlumbia to take on the 14-15 Cocks. The first round of the SECs will likely be against Missouri again. And the winner of that Wednesday night game (UGA is guaranteed a Wednesday night game now) will take on someone that’s not LSU, Kentucky or Tennessee, which means that game is winnable, too (as of Saturday night five teams were tied for 5th place in the league). 

This winter in Athens was going to be a long one no matter what. This program needed a shot in the arm, and got that with the commitment of Anthony Edwards in February. But it needed a win like this one, too. Georgia will be a very different team this time next year. But the close of this season matters to some degree. 

Think about it this way - Nic Claxton, who is an NBA prospect and the team’s best player - won’t be the top NBA prospect on the team a year from now. Georgia will look very, very different next winter as it will return two Top 100 prospects and add three more.

Five Top 100 prospects on a team is how you transition from going to Nashville to meet your conference obligations to traveling there to cut down nets.

 
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