Both visiting Georgia and No. 9-ranked Memphis carry winning streaks into Saturday’s late nonconference game at FedExForum.
The host Tigers (12-1) have ripped off 10 straight since dropping an 82-74 decision to Oregon on Nov. 12. Most recently, Memphis held off a challenge from Tulane in the team’s American Athletic Conference opener on Monday, 84-73.
Lester Quinones made his return from a hand injury that sidelined him for a month in Monday’s win, scoring a team-high 16 points off the bench.
Quinones’ presence also helped cut down on turnovers. In a Dec. 28 rout of New Orleans, the Tigers coughed up possession 27 times, one game after committing 28 against Jackson State a week earlier. Quinones told the Commercial Appeal following Monday’s game that cleaner possession has been a heavy point of emphasis for Tigers coach Penny Hardaway.
“Coach has just emphasized it every single day in practice,” Quinones said. “‘We’ve got to cut down on turnovers. We’ve got to cut down on turnovers.’ So … instead of making those full-court, long passes, those flashy passes, we’re starting to run the offense and execute. Just really not going for those flashy passes.”
Memphis enters its meeting with Southeastern Conference member Georgia committing turnovers on 22.1 percent of possessions, which ranks No. 298 in the nation per KenPom.com. On the flip side, the Tigers have excelled defensively.
They are generating turnovers on 23.4 percent of opponent possessions, rank second in the percentage of defensive possessions with blocked shots, and have the third-best opponent 2-point field-goal percentage in college basketball at 39.3.
Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries have been Memphis’ top rim protectors at 1.5 and 1.3 blocked shots per game. Achiuwa is also averaging just under a double-double at 9.8 rebounds per game to go with his team-high 14.2 points per game.
Boogie Ellis, Alex Lomax, Damion Baugh, Malcolm Dandridge and Achiuwa all average better than a steal per game, as well.
The Tigers have flourished despite the loss of highly touted freshman center James Wiseman. Wiseman played in the first three games before he was handed a 12-game suspension in November. Wiseman opted to withdraw from Memphis and prepare for the NBA Draft last month.
Prior to the suspension and departure, Saturday’s game could have been a matchup of potential NBA lottery picks.
Georgia (9-3) comes into FedExForum led by freshman Anthony Edwards, averaging 18.8 points per game.
Edwards scored just nine points his last time out, but the Bulldogs cruised to a 78-48 rout of Austin Peay all the same. The win was Georgia’s third straight, and fifth in the last six since the finale of the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving week.
Georgia will likely need more from Edwards against Memphis’ stout defense, as the Bulldogs likely will look to attack more aggressively in the early going than they did against an overmatched Austin Peay.
“We hit a real lull there in the first half,” said Georgia coach Tom Crean in his postgame press conference. “It was us not attacking. It was us not pushing and defending as well at the beginning of the game.
“I really liked how we responded in the second half,” he added. “And I thought the ball moved. We shot the ball better (and) it was great seeing Donnell [Gresham Jr.] knock in shots. Hitting eight [3-pointers] was good for us.”
Georgia’s 3-point shooting on the season has been middling. The Bulldogs average 30.0 percent from deep, with none of their shooters who have taken at least 14 attempts hitting any more than Rayshaun Hammonds’ and Tyree Crump’s 31.4 percent.
–Field Level Media