published Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Georgia frustrates UT again

Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) shoots a three-point basket while defended by Tennessee guards Jordan McRae (52) and guard Josh Richardson (1) on Saturday in Athens, Ga.
Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) shoots a three-point basket while defended by Tennessee guards Jordan McRae (52) and guard Josh Richardson (1) on Saturday in Athens, Ga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. — Jordan McRae slowly walked toward Tennessee's bench. He was visibly flustered.

The Volunteers' leading scorer had fouled out with a minute left on the Stegeman Coliseum clock, and the realization he could do no more to save his team's faint chances at victory showed in his facial expressions and body language.

"It was just frustrating," he said of the moment his 35-point performance ended, "to watch our team drop one like this."

The madness for Tennessee already might be done less than two days into March.

Georgia put a dent into the Vols' NCAA tournament hopes, snapped their six-game winning streak and completed the season sweep of Tennessee with a 78-68 win Saturday afternoon.

"Georgia was the better team tonight, and that's just the end of it," McRae said. "Sometimes you come out flat. That's just a part of the game."

Tennessee entered the day atop ESPN bracket analyst Joe Lunardi's list of the first four teams out of the NCAA tournament and in the field of 68 in other projections, but a second loss to a team with an RPI of 142 according to ESPN won't help the Vols' postseason cause.

"We'd rather be on the bubble than not in the conversation at all," Vols point guard Trae Golden said, "but we knew coming into this game we needed to win.

"It was just a tough night for us."

That applied to every Vol besides McRae and Kenny Hall.

In perhaps his best gem in a season full of them, McRae made 10 of 15 shots, eight of 11 3-point attempts and all seven of his free throws, while Hall chipped in 10 points. The rest of the team scored just 23 points and made only eight of 37 shots (21.6 percent).

"Games like that happen," McRae said, "but for so many guys to have that [off] game, it's hard to win like that."

Golden, who didn't score until the game's final minute, and Skylar McBee made just two of their 18 shots and missed 10 of 12 trey tries.

"I just didn't knock down a couple of shots I usually hit," Golden said. "Just one of those days. I just missed a few of my shots, and they were knocking down shots."

Georgia focused its defense on Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (eight points and 10 rebounds) with a sagging defense geared to limit his touches and force him to catch the ball away from the basket. The Bulldogs outrebounded Tennessee 38-34, allowed the Vols just 14 points in the paint and held Stokes to six shot attempts and two offensive rebounds.

"I think Jordan came with it, and he's been coming with it a lot," Stokes said. "The other guys, including myself, have to step up on the offensive end. Even if I'm getting double-teamed, I still have to make plays.

"I think Georgia just had a good game plan on the defensive end. Our offense wasn't clicking. Guys weren't hitting 3s like they had been."

One particular miss proved to be a turning point.

McBee's long-range attempt from the wing rimmed out with Georgia leading 48-45 with less than seven minutes left, and after two Georgia free throws and two Tennessee turnovers, Kenny Gaines made a corner 3-pointer for an eight-point lead.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Bulldogs' top scorer who poured in 24 points in Georgia's win in Knoxville on Feb. 6 and added 25 on Saturday, made a 3 in front of his bench a few possessions later, and Tennessee was playing catch-up in the game's waning minutes following Gaines' 3-pointer that gave Georgia a 62-50 lead with 2:56 on the clock.

"I just thought we got off to a slow start and didn't have good spacing offensively, and give those guys credit," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We didn't play as well as we needed to play, and I think a lot of that has to do with when you're making shots, you feel good about yourself and you're getting stops. It's one of those up-and-down up-and-down games [in which] we couldn't really get into a flow.

"We just didn't play at the level we needed to."

After his team's last-second loss at Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Georgia coach Mark Fox received some motivation at an Athens Waffle House on Friday from Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt.

"He just encouraged us to get off the mat and fight again," Fox said. "I was proud of our basketball team. We beat a good basketball team that is fighting to get into postseason play, and they should get into the postseason."

The Vols gave themselves more work to do in that regard.

"I'll feel like we'll be fine," McRae said, "trying to get back to winning again."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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