Georgia Bulldogs aim for long-range assault at Arkansas

Georgia guard Justin Kier (5) brings the ball up the floor against LSU in Baton Rouge this past Wednesday. The graduate transfer made six 3-pointers and led the Bulldogs with 25 points in the 94-92 overtime loss.
Georgia guard Justin Kier (5) brings the ball up the floor against LSU in Baton Rouge this past Wednesday. The graduate transfer made six 3-pointers and led the Bulldogs with 25 points in the 94-92 overtime loss.

Credit: Beau Brune

Credit: Beau Brune

ATHENS – Georgia is a completely different team when it makes its outside shots. While that’s true for most teams, that reality was on vivid display in the Bulldogs’ most recent game, a near-miss loss at LSU on Wednesday.

And it will have to be on display again Saturday as Georgia (7-2, 0-2 SEC) heads back on the road to face another formidable foe in Arkansas (9-2, 1-2). The 3:30 p.m. game will be televised on the SEC Network.

The Bulldogs made 12 3-pointers and got six 3-pointers from Justin Kier alone as they pushed the heavily favored Tigers to the brink in what ended as a 94-92 loss in overtime. Ironically, it was a missed layup by Kier that kept the game from going to a second overtime.

Georgia made only 34.3 percent of what was a season-high 35 3-point tries, but that actually represented a significant improvement. The Bulldogs went to Baton Rouge shooting only 30 percent from 3-point range, which actually was up over previous weeks. They’re up again, heading to Fayetteville shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc, or 30.9 to be exact.

Coach Tom Crean was asked how he can keep his team on the mark.

“You can definitely get better in practice, but the reps have to be real, and they have to be focused,” Crean said. “Game speed has a lot to do with it. Someone holding you accountable for the proper footwork, technique and balance is huge. To become a better shooter, you have to be very serious about getting better. It’s never about just getting shots up.”

The Bulldogs never have been shy about launching from the perimeter under Crean, and this season is no different. It’s part of his fast-play, high-scoring philosophy. But generally, he hasn’t had many great shooters to do the launching.

In the words of Georgia’s legendary former coach Hugh Durham, “I don’t need any more shooters. I need more makers.”

The Bulldogs do believe they have some exceptional makers on the roster, they just haven’t been making their share just yet.

It took Kier, a graduate transfer from George Mason, a while to get going himself. But he’s on the mark now. He’ll arrive at Arkansas ranked ninth among SEC players from 3-point range, shooting 40.7 percent.

P.J. Horne, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, came to UGA for the expressed purpose of providing a strong-outside shooting presence from a forward position. He hasn’t been quite as sharp as advertised, so far at least, but still is making 35.3 percent from beyond the arc, a respectable number for a 6-foot-6 frontcourt player. And he’s 5-of-10 in Georgia’s two SEC games.

Where the Bulldogs’ perimeter threat is being dragged down at the moment is from two other players who, judging from their number of attempts, must be considerably more proficient in practice. Behind Kier and Horne, Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler and Toumani Camara have attempted the third- and fourth-most 3-point shots, respectively. Thus far, they’ve made only 22.9 percent (8-of-35) and 17.4 percent (4-of-23), respectively.

That’s one of the problems with Crean’s “position-less basketball” philosophy. It’s based on all players being able to make most shots. Then, again, scoring is not exactly one of Georgia’s problems.

The Bulldogs rank among three of 345 Division I men’s basketball teams with six players currently averaging double figures in the scoring column. Georgia’s averaging 81.4 points per game. That’s third in the SEC.

The top two are the team the Bulldogs are about to see (Arkansas at 87.2 ppg) and the team it just saw (LSU, 86.8).

But if Georgia can get everybody shooting well on the same night, look out.

“It’s important that our offensive movement , spacing and reversals are constant and consistent,” Crean said. “It’s not as much about anyone carrying a different load. It’s much more about five players moving.”

Like LSU, Georgia can’t expect to outscore Arkansas. The Razorbacks are led by guards Moses Moody (15.9 ppg) and JD Notae (15.7). They also feature a 7-foot-3 sophomore, Connor Vanover, who is making 32 percent of his 3-points and his perfect from the foul line.

Arkansas will be without graduate transfer Justin Smith (11.6 ppg), who played for Crean at Indiana. He’ll miss his second game with an ankle injury.

“They’re going to be a different matchup,” Crean said. “I think Arkansas has more guys that can make shots, so we’re going to have to be really attentive to what we need to get done defensively there.”

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