The first times these two teams met this season, the Kentucky Wildcats could not have had a worse start if they tried. Georgia raced out to a 19-5 lead with 12 minutes to go in the first half, before the Cats started to battle back into the game. It took the Cats until less than a minute left in the first half to tie the score at 29 a piece going into the locker room. The second half saw neither team really take over the game, but Malik Monk sure did. He single-handedly kept Kentucky in this game at the offensive end, finishing with 37 points on 7-11 from beyond the arc. He also hit the game-tying shot with about 8 seconds left in regulation to force the overtime period. The Cats came out in overtime and outscored the Bulldogs 14-5, giving UK the 9 point, hard fought victory.
The second matchup was a bit different in the first half, but down the stretch, the story was the same. The game was back and forth for its entirety, with the largest lead at any point in the game being only 6 points. JJ Frazier was near unguardable, as he racked up 36 points; however, the balanced team effort from the Cats took care of business. The Cats had six players score 9 or more points en route to an 82 to 77 victory over the Bulldogs.
In the five games since that second matchup for the Bulldogs, their record is 4-1, including their win over Tennessee yesterday in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Most importantly for Georgia, they won 3 of those games without their best player, Yante Maten. Maten was injured in the most recent game against Kentucky and is returning to the floor for the SEC Tourney. Since this is the third time the Cats have played Mark Fox’s squad, this starting lineup should be familiar to all of our readers out there.
#1 Yante Maten, Junior Forward, 6’8″
Yante Maten returns as the best player from last year’s Georgia Bulldog squad to be one of the best players in the SEC this season. He started every game for Mark Fox last season, on his way to earning Second Team All-SEC. In fact, if you include this season, Maten has started 87 of the 88 games he’s played in a Georgia uniform.
The Junior has been a force for the Dawgs this season. He’s leading the team in points and blocks, as well as second in rebounds. His averages are 19.4 points per game, good for third in the SEC, 7.2 rebounds which ranks sixth in the conference, 1.6 blocks, and 1.6 assists. UK’s weak front court couldn’t handle Maten last season, as he averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two games.
In the first game this season, Maten was just as advertised. He finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Maten played very little of the last match up with the Cats, as a knee injury forced him to sit out the remainder of the regular season. He’s back now, for the SEC tournament, and his play will be a major factor in today’s game.
#30 JJ Frazier, Senior Guard, 5’10”
JJ Frazier was right up there with Yante Maten in the running for best player for Mark Fox last season. He led the team in the scoring, assists, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage a year ago. He, like Maten, was also tabbed Second Team All-SEC by the coaches.
Frazier is putting up solid numbers in his final collegiate season, leading the team in assists, steals, and free-throw percentage. He’s putting up 16.6 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2 steals per game, which is the third best in the SEC. While his numbers may look good, they are down in comparison to last season, most notably, his shooting from deep. Last season, Frazier shot 39% from 3-point land, and this year that percentage has dropped to 30.6%. His free throw shooting has remained a constant though, hitting 87.4% on the year.
The senior guard will draw the defensive assignment of De’Aaron Fox tonight. Fox will attempt to keep Frazier from having the night he’s had in the first two meetings between these two teams. Frazier combined for 59 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals in the two games this season. The Cats will have to clamp down defensively on Frazier to keep Georgia at bay. Paging Dom Hawkins.
#3 Juwan Parker, Junior Guard, 6’4″
Juwan Parker missed all of the 2015-16 season due to off-season surgery to fix an injury to his left Achilles. He actually incurred the injury about halfway through the 2014-15 season, and chose to pursue a medical redshirt the following season. Parker was a part-time starter for Mark Fox at the time of his injury, but he missed about a season and a half of playing time.
This season, it would seem that Parker is feeling 100% and is back to his old playing style. The Junior is averaging 9.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and almost 2 assists. He’s not much of a shooter from downtown, only hitting 8 threes on the season, but he is a solid mid range shooter. His free throw percentage is second on the team at 86.5%.
While Parker’s offensive contributions in the first game in Rupp don’t show much on the stat sheet, his contributions do show in the stat sheet for the defensive side of the floor. Parker had 4 points, an assist, and fouled out while trying to defend Malik Monk. When I said his defensive contributions showed, I was referring to the points column next to Monk’s name. Georgia is going to need a much bigger and more positive contribution than a combined 14 points in two games, if they want a shot at winning tonight’s game.
#34 Derek Ogbeide, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Derek Ogbeide was a solid contributor in his freshman campaign for Mark Fox, despite playing less than 20 minutes per game. He finished second on the team in rebounds and blocked shots a season ago. The Atlanta, Georgia native brings some more muscle to the front line for the Bulldogs.
Ogbeide is a consistent player for Mark Fox this year, playing a blue collar role opposite the flashier stats of Yante Maten down low. He’s averaging 7 points, a team-leading 7.3rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per contest. The shots that Ogbeide does take will be high percentage and most likely under the basket. He’s shooting the best percentage from the field on the team at 58.5%.
With Bam Adebayo forced to sit for long stretches with foul trouble in the first game, Kentucky interior defense struggled to handle the big fella Ogbeide. A surprise monster contributor, Ogbeide finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks. In the second game, Ogbeide finished with 4 points and 11 boards.
#13, E’Torrion Wilrdige, Sophomore Forward, 6’6″
E’Torrion Wilridge has been starting the last few games due to Jordan Harris going out for the year with a bone chip. In the past two games against the Cats, Wilridge combined for 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 39 minutes. With huge offensive numbers from Yante Maten and JJ Frazier, Wilridge isn’t asked to do much statistically for Mark Fox’s team. However, something for the Cats to focus on is making non-producers stay non-producers. In a close game, someone outside of your two main players stepping up is a huge lift to the team.
On the season, Wilridge is averaging 1.9 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. Despite not being a huge scorer, he can knock down jumpers, hitting over 30% of his three point attempts on the season. More than half of his shots on the season are from behind the three point line. Wilridge gives the Bulldogs a little bit more size in their starting lineup than with Harris. More size in the opponent’s lineup is never good for the Cats, who start three players at 6’3″, but I think Wilridge will have his hands full trying to defend the Cats.
They say that it is hard to beat the same team three times in one season in college basketball. With how close the first two match ups were between the Cats and the Dogs, it makes this third game especially interesting. A lot of people are calling for the Cats to get upset today, but I’m not buying it. I think this group of UK guys has a mentality that rivals some former Coach Cal teams. That refuse to lose mentality has been shown with the comebacks throughout the past few weeks. However, the slow starts for the Cats aren’t going to always to be reversible. If the Cats want to win the SEC Tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA Tourney, they need to stop the slow starts as soon as possible. It starts today.
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.