Dangerous Georgia Upsets the Gators

Ken Cross

March 03, 2019 at 2:03 pm.

Feb 20, 2019; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs forward Nicolas Claxton (33) dunks the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half at Stegeman Coliseum. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 20, 2019; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs forward Nicolas Claxton (33) dunks the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second half at Stegeman Coliseum. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Championship week, or rather week-and-a-half, begins at the end of this week as most of the action starts in the mid-majors. The fact that all 353 teams are alive for one last shot at the NCAA Tournament is one of the great things about college basketball that college football doesn’t offer.

Many times lower seeded teams catch fire and make runs deep into conference tournaments while they pop bubbles, makes themselves known or pull off the unthinkable and win those league tournaments as a path into the NCAA postseason.

The Georgia Bulldogs, despite a 2-14 SEC ledger, are a team with the parts to perhaps pull a couple of upsets when we get off the bus and go into Bridgestone Arena next week for what will be 13 hotly contested games that revive the love and the faith of the college basketball spirit in the league.

No, I am not saying Georgia will make major noise, but they do have a play-in game which will be winnable and then a potential matchup on Thursday where they can compete with a higher seeded opponent.

The Bulldogs have played such competitive basketball over the last five games and the determination of this group paid off on Saturday night in a surprising 61-55 win at Florida where the Bulldogs finally saw the hard work and determination pay off.

Coming into that game, their last four losses were by a combined total of seven points and those last three were decided on the last possession.

“I am very proud at the way our players have continued to not only persevere, because it’s really, really hard, we have had four games that have been nine point differentials,” said first-year coach Tom Crean.

The difference on Saturday was 6-11 sophomore Nicolas Claxton, who finished with a season-high 25 points in 35 minutes. Claxton was able to score from most anywhere he wanted on the court as he was 9-of-12 from the field with two triples as well as making all five of his free throws.

He didn’t have any trouble with the navigation of his offense in the paint and after Florida hit a 10-0 run which ended early in the second half, he was able to score seven quick points, one of those off a three, to move Georgia within striking distance.

Claxton was comfortable all night as that massive output showed.

“They do a lot of switching and they try to guard bigger players with guards a lot,” commented Claxton. “I just came out aggressive and I was hot. My teammates did a good job of finding me.”

Developing the three-pointer has been major for him and will benefit him in a huge way at the next level.  He made both of his attempts as he has become more comfortable on the perimeter with lots of hard work which has bred his confidence.

“If they don’t respect me, I am going to shoot,” said Claxton. “I believe in my shot and I work on it a lot.  I get a lot of extra work in with the manager and the graduate assistants, so I believe in my shot and I am going to shoot if I am open.”

Georgia took the lead for good midway through the second half as E’Torrion Wilridge scored on a layup off a pass in the half-court from Jordan Harrison and on the next possession Claxton canned a pair of free throws for a 45-41 lead.

The Gators cut the lead to one twice and two on a couple of occasions, but Claxton had a pair of key baskets late as the Bulldogs scored on their last five possessions.

Belief has been there for the Bulldogs as Crean came in and brought in an entire new system which has been a 180-degree turnaround from the attack that Mark Fox had installed.

In this case, it takes lots of time for the system to take hold and Claxton and his teammates have stayed the course and have belief going into the last week of the season and, of course, the SEC Tournament.

“It’s huge, getting that momentum and going into the tournament,” said Claxton. “We feel like we can go into the tournament and make a good run. In those last four games before this one, we played some good teams close, so tonight getting that win was a breakthrough and it will help us out big time.”