It was a bad night for Anthony Edwards to have to the flu.
That was the bottom line for the Georgia Bulldogs, who battled the SEC’s highest-scoring team to the absolute brink before finally falling to Alabama 105-102 in overtime before a crowd of 10,041 at Stegeman Coliseum. The 102-point total was the most UGA has scored in a loss since losing to Georgia Tech 112-105 in the 1990-91 season.
Edwards, the highest-scoring freshman in the country at 19.8 points a game, was diagnosed with the flu on Friday and his status for Saturday’s game was not known until a couple of hours before the 6 p.m. tipoff. Edwards chose to give it a go the best he could, with coach Tom Crean vigilantly trying to find him rest when he could.
Edwards didn’t get much. He played 36:12 of the 45 minutes and was on the floor to attempt to make Georgia’s final shot of the game. Not surprisingly given the circumstances, his 3-pointer from the left corner as time expired was short. If he’d made it, the teams would have headed to a second overtime.
“I knew I wasn’t going to have any lift on my jump shot, but Sahvir (Wheeler) trusted me to give the ball and I still shot it. It just wouldn’t fall,” said Edwards, who still finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, which represented his third double-double in the last four games. “We were going not to play too many minutes, but when we went into overtime, I knew he wasn’t going to take me out. I knew I’d have to dig deep and try to find energy.”
Turns out that Georgia’s coach is dealing with the same malady and coached the game as well as the last two practices under the influence of antibiotics. Rayshaun Hammonds also has been dealing with bout of migraine headaches.
“I was worried knowing we had a couple of guys that didn’t have normal energy,” said Crean, his voice hoarse and deeper than usual due to the illness. “… That’s not an excuse. We’ve got to guard the ball better.”
Wheeler is 100 hundred percent healthy however and it showed as the freshman point guard went for a career-high 24 points to go along with eight assists.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome the efforts of Alabama’s scintillating star Kira Lewis Jr. The sophomore guard killed the Bulldogs off the dribble and poured in a career-high 37 points and 12-of-21 shooting. Fellow guard John Petty Jr. added 21 points and the Crimson Tide shot 52.8% from the field while going to the foul 30 times.
Once again, the Bulldogs fell victim to dribble penetration. That was the primary issue when they blew a 22-point lead against Florida this past Wednesday and it was definitely the problem Saturday as Georgia lost the handle on what was a 12-point advantage with 14 minutes remaining in regulation.
“I’m disappointed. It starts with me, I guess,” Crean said. “When we started I thought we’d be in a better mode for, like, ‘you’re not going by me.’ Right? I’ve got to do a better job of developing that more every day than what we are. At the end of the day, that’s what this comes down to, especially in the last week and a half.”
In defense of Georgia’s defense, the Bulldogs were facing the fastest player in the SEC and one of the quickest in the country off the dribble in Lewis. Nine of his 12 field goals came from inside the paint as the 6-3 guard proved unguardable whether being defended by the 5-10 Wheeler or some other Bulldog.
But Alabama coach Nate Oats pointed out that it wasn’t a one-way street. Wheeler proved just as impossible for the Tide to defend as he repeatedly went to the basket. Six of his nine baskets were recorded on dribble-drives.
“They actually had more points in the paint than us, 58 to 56, so we gave up a lot more than we should, too, in my opinion,” Oats said. “I thought we gave up way too much in transition. But they’ve got some talented kids. Obviously everybody knows about Edwards, but Wheeler caused us some major problems. They’re similar to us.”
The loss was the sixth in the last seven games for Georgia (12-11, 2-8 SEC), which can all but close the door on any chance of an NCAA bid with nine games remaining in the regular season. Next up is South Carolina, which visits Stegeman Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Alabama (13-10, 5-5), which came in off a three-game losing streak, keeps its flickering hopes alive. The last two were tightly-contested as well.
This one couldn’t have been any tighter. As might be expected between two of the SEC’s top four scoring teams, it was a game of streaks and runs. Alabama got the all-important last one in the five-minute extra period.
Leading 96-94 at the 3:53 mark, the Bulldogs went into an extended offensive drought. They missed on six of their seven shot attempts in overtime and didn’t have a field goal in the last 2:44.
But Georgia would scrap all the way to the finish and stayed within range thanks to a couple of missed free throws by the Crimson Tide down the stretch. Alabama missed nine of 30 free throws on the night, the last miss coming from Petty at the 4.6-second mark. That gave the Bulldogs a chance for one last shot.
It was a hurried one by Edwards off a feed from Wheeler. He didn’t really want to take it but was left with no choice.
“I told them in the middle of the game, even if I was open on the (3-point) line, I was going to drive it because I felt weak,” Edwards said. “I knew I wasn’t going to make many jump shots. So when he passed it to me, I was just like, ‘we need a 3, so I’m gonna shoot it.’ I knew I couldn’t get any lift. I told him he should’ve kept it and shot it himself. But, hey, he gave it to me.”
Georgia was fortunate to get the game into overtime. It trailed 92-90 after Lewis missed one of two free throws with 31.3 seconds left in regulation. Hammonds, who’d finish with 20 points on the night, knotted the game at 92-all with a runner in the lane.
But 21.6 seconds remained, which was plenty of time for the fast-moving Tide. Sure enough, Lewis tried to make his way to the basket again. But this time Georgia’s Mike Peake stepped in his path. A collision ensued and Lewis was whistled for a charge in the lane with 2.8 seconds left on the clock.
Jordan Harris got away a long, running 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it bounced off the right side of the rim.
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