CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Down here in NASCAR country everyone is familiar with the pace car.
On the track, it will lead the desperate revving pack. Meander around turns while engines rev.
Georgias pace car controlled most of Saturdays race against Washington, a 68-65 Huskies win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs walked up the court on offense, then reclined in zone on defense. They didnt want the pace tortoise slow, but quarter horse would be just fine.
They were telling us on the court, all you guys want to do is run, Darnell Gant, a surprise starter said. Cant yall slow it down?
It was funny.
When coaches gather to watch Washington, the overhead light bulb tells them thats the way to win. Slow down the racers. Reverse the Huskies athletes to peach-basket pace.
Trouble is, Washington is beginning to sort that out, with extra help from assorted weaponry. Now it will be the turn of University of North Carolina to figure out a counter Sunday morning at 9:15.
Washington and Georgia grappled to a 28-all tie at the half. What Georgia wanted.
Just three Bulldogs players scored by the break: Nightlong menace Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson.
Washington was brutal for much of the half. It left the rim wincing after shooting 2-for-14 from behind the three-point line. The offense slogged.
Yet, there it stood at 28, following a spinning drive by Isaiah Thomas that few others could pull off. Shot selection was mediocre. Rebounding was average. Defense against Thompkins was limited.
That changed in the first part of the second half. The emphasis on fronting the post and denying entry passes took hold for Washington on defense. Once again, it was able to get away with putting Justin Holiday on a much larger player, Thompkins.
Holiday stole, deflected, angled off entry passes. Washingtons backcourt trap allowed it to follow the defensive blueprint it used against UCLA: Make the set-heavy opposition waste time in the backcourt, start as high as possible, then take it from there.
So often Georgia crept across the midcourt line with almost 10 seconds gone on the shot clock. Using big man Thompkins as pressure relief, the Bulldogs were comfortable with him plodding up the court against a harassing Holiday. By the time he handed the ball to a guard, the Bulldogs had 23 seconds or less to get into a set then execute.
So often they were stumped. Panic rose when the clock dwindled. Forced to freelance, the Bulldogs crashed. If not for several Thompkins bail outs, it would have been worse.
The Huskies pushed the lead to 10, 45-35. Georgia teetered. Washington remained a double-digit leader, 59-49, with just 4:26 remaining. It was still 10, 63-53, with only 2:03 left.
After that, numerous openings on Washington bodies tightened. Turnovers and missed free throws accounted for the squeeze of the final score.
Thats the tournament, Venoy Overton, who is in his third, said.
Know this: Washington took control for almost all of the second half playing the other teams game.
Were getting better at things like that throughout the whole season, Thomas said. We had games we should have won but didnt execute down the stretch.
Georgia tried to grind down the Huskies. When it succeeded in one spot, it found an issue in another. Washingtons ballyhooed depth was deserving of plaudits following the tournament win. The Huskies bench outscored Georgias 28-0. Georgia was simply too limited, even at its preferred tempo, to counter Washingtons abundance of scorers.
Washington scores it from so many places, Georgia coach Mark Fox said. Theyre a really tough match-up as you try to build your defense.
Theyre so balanced offensively, theyll take advantage of whatever the defense gives them.
Show the final score, describe the game before it happened, everyone is altering Seattle flight plans from Monday to Saturday.
The majority of the final numbers indicate Washington should have lost. It was outrebounded, finished with just 10 assists, scored just 68 points, shot 22 percent from behind the three-point line.
It was exactly what Georgia wanted. Yet, the Bulldogs are heading south.