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Georgia extends LSU’s losing streak to 13 games

 Charles Vaughan   in Basketball

For the second consecutive game, the Stegeman Coliseum faithful were treated to a wild finish as their Georgia Bulldogs squeaked past the LSU Tigers 64-63 on Tuesday night. Georgia, improving to 16-10 (6-7 SEC), has now won two games in a row for the first time since January 14th. LSU dropped their whopping 13th consecutive game, falling to 12-14 (1-12).

The evening was marked by offensive struggles on both sides, and no Bulldog finished with a particularly impressive statline. The hero of the night, guard Justin Hill, scored 10 points on 4-10 shooting. Guard Kario Oquendo, fresh off of a 21-point game, scored just six, as did guard Terry Roberts. However, the Dogs got a combined 24 from center Braelen Bridges and guard Jabri Adbur-Rahim. Georgia lost the rebounding battle but outshot their opponents and more effectively took care of the ball.

The Tigers, on their longest losing streak in six years, turned to forward KJ Williams for a spark. Williams delivered with 18 points and 9 rebounds, but no other LSU player scored in double digits. Guard Adam Miller only managed six points on 2-10 shooting, while forward Derek Fountain didn’t score in double digits for the first time since January 24th. LSU turned the ball over 19 times, six more times than Georgia and the Tigers’ second-highest mark of the season.

The game was a scrap from the beginning, with Georgia jumping out to an early advantage but LSU striking back immediately. The teams traded turnovers and missed threes as the lead swung back and forth. In the four minutes before the break, LSU gave the ball away five times and scored no points, yet UGA still trailed 28-26 going into halftime. Georgia beat reporter Chip Towers described the opening period as a “horrific first half of basketball,” which was backed up by both teams’ field goal percentages hovering below 32%.

The second half got off to much the same start, with the lead changing five times in the first twelve minutes. The game’s result was completely up in the air. Around the eight-minute mark, it finally seemed as though Georgia was getting a hold of things. In front of the growing buzz of their fans, the Dogs strung together a series of jumpers and free throws to take a 57-49 lead with 6:20 to go.

But UGA took their foot off the gas, and buckets by Miller and Jalen Reed suddenly cut the Georgia advantage to just one with two minutes left. Bridges and Jusuan Holt made crucial defensive plays that seemed as though they would tip the scale back in Georgia’s favor, but UGA’s Roberts missed three free throws and turned the ball over, letting LSU back into the game. With 11 seconds to go, Williams backed down the Bulldog defense and hit a floater to give LSU a 63-62 lead. 

With the home crowd in disbelief and four seconds on the game clock, UGA’s Hill saved the day with a brilliant driving layup that gave Georgia a lead they wouldn’t lose.

Bad News in Baton Rouge

LSU’s once-promising season sunk to a new depth Tuesday night, as the Tigers tied Presbyterian and Cal Poly for the longest active losing streak in the country at 13. LSU’s most recent win and only SEC victory came against Arkansas on December 28th - Matt McMahon’s team is 0-13 in 2023. The Tigers’ 12-1 start is a distant memory now.

This run of misfortune is not the longest in program history - that dishonor goes to Johnny Jones’ 2016-2017 Tigers, who lost 15 games in a row. Jones’ squad, much like the Tigers of this year, came into SEC play riding high after finding success in the non-conference. They would beat Missouri on January 4th, 2017, and not win another game until March 1st.

The SEC tournament is designed in a way that the 11th through 14th-place teams have to play an extra game. With four games left in the regular season, the Tigers are last in the conference and don’t have a chance to break out of the bottom four. Seeding is not at stake for them, so all LSU has to play for is the pride of not finishing in last place. Their Saturday matchup with 13th-place South Carolina will be crucial in that regard.

The Southeastern Conference has once again proven brutal to first-year head coaches, even those with track records of success like McMahon. Five of the current bottom six teams in the SEC are led by a coach hired in the summer of 2022, all of whom were coming off 20-or-more win seasons at their previous schools. In fact, since 2010, only two coaches have led an SEC school to a top-six conference finish in their first year - Cuonzo Martin (2012 Tennessee and 2018 Missouri) and Bryce Drew (2017 Vanderbilt).

Cardiac Dawgs 

Georgia pulled off one of their biggest wins of the season in last weekend’s thriller against Kentucky and followed it up with an even tighter game. The Bulldog backcourt was much less efficient against LSU than they were against UK and turnover issues were much more pronounced, but big late-game moments once again swung UGA into the win column.

Justin Hill did not have his best overall day, at times struggling to convert from around the basket. Make a shot like he did, however, and all wrongs are forgiven. KJ Williams scored what seemed to be a dagger of a bucket, putting LSU up one with 11 seconds left on the clock. Instead of calling Georgia’s final remaining timeout, Hill kept his head up, got the ball from the inbounder, and drove the length of the court without a second thought. He proceeded to dash right into Williams, one of the better shot-blockers in the SEC, and nail a layup with a huge degree of difficulty. 

Guards Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo, both perhaps hampered by injury, were less-than-dependable options for UGA. Roberts, who suffered a concussion earlier this month, committed six turnovers, including a crucial late-game giveaway that allowed LSU to take the lead in the first place. He also missed three free throws in the game’s closing two minutes. Oquendo was already having a hard time affecting the game in the first half and matters were compounded after he went down writhing in pain when LSU’s KJ Williams came down on his ankle. Oquendo was able to return and score twice early in the second half, but he left the game for good with 10:37 to go.

Center Braelen Bridges was a crucial engine in Georgia’s success, scoring multiple times on backdowns when the guards were having a hard time getting consistent looks at the rim. He struggled in the first half and got into foul trouble early in the second, but played a productive last eighteen minutes of basketball in which he came up with a block and 11 points. Bridges also forced LSU’s Jalen Reed to travel late in the game, giving Georgia the ball back with 90 seconds remaining.

Jabri Abdur-Rahim has quietly been one of Georgia’s best players over the last week. Coming off of an efficient outing against Kentucky, the junior guard followed it up with an even better game. Abdur-Rahim was trusty and reliable from behind the arc, shooting 3-6 from deep, which accounted for half of the Bulldogs’ threes. He looked poised with the ball in his hands, didn’t turn the ball over a single time, and went 2-2 on free throws.

Guards Gone Missing

LSU guard Adam Miller was ice-cold from three, taking eight and making just two. Most of the shots weren’t terrible, either - Miller got looks from the corner and the top of the key - but he was simply unable to convert tonight. 

LSU’s guards as a unit just didn’t give Georgia anything to worry about. The Tigers played four players classified as guards - Miller, Justice Hill, Trae Hannibal, and Cam Hayes - and they combined for 21 points on 5/22 shooting, which is a 22% field goal percentage. 

Their frontcourt players - KJ Williams, Derek Fountain, and Tyrell Ward - were largely forced to carry the playmaking and scoring burden on their own, and although Williams in particular found some success, it was not a sustainable recipe.

A New Streak Begins

This is the first time since beating Mississippi State and Ole Miss on January 11th and 14th that Georgia has won multiple games in a row. Both victories have been impressive - although neither Kentucky nor LSU are elite teams even within the SEC, Georgia has capitalized on their leads and converted them into wins, something they’ve struggled to do throughout the season. Neither game has been incredibly pretty, but the way the Dogs have manufactured offense with a limited Terry Roberts is impressive.

Once doomed to the bottom four seeds, UGA has officially inserted themselves into the top-ten conversation. They still have work to do - their current 46% conference win percentage probably won’t cut it - but the Bulldogs have multiple winnable games left on their schedule and could realistically overtake Mississippi State for the possession of the tenth seed.

Georgia likely won’t play meaningful postseason basketball this season, but the improvements Mike White has made are undeniable. On this date one year ago, the Bulldogs were 6-19 and 1-11, soon to rattle off a losing streak that would drop them to 6-26 and 1-18. Just 365 days later, UGA is comfortably over .500 and has a glimmer of hope that they can do damage in the SEC tournament, an impossible thought in 2022. The trophies and tournament bids and KenPom ratings aren’t quite there yet, but this is a program headed in the right direction.

What’s Next

Georgia now heads off on a brutal road trip against #1 Alabama and Arkansas. They’ll close out the season with home games against Missouri and Florida and an away game against South Carolina.

LSU returns to Baton Rouge this Saturday to duel with South Carolina for last place in the SEC. From there, the Tigers will close out the year with home games against Vanderbilt and Missouri and road games against Ole Miss and Florida.