The University of Georgia Men’s Basketball team defeated the Western Carolina Catamounts in their season opener on Monday night in Stegeman Coliseum at a final score of 68-55 as first-year head coach Mike White begins his career as a Bulldog with a victory in front of his new fanbase.
Picking up where he left off as the leading scorer on the 2021-2022 squad, star guard Kario Oquendo led the way for the Dawgs offensively with 18 points on an efficient 7-11 shooting. Syracuse transfer Frank Anselem also added some nice production for the Dawgs around the rim, dropping 11 in only 13 minutes as he struggled to stay out of foul trouble.
Tyzhaun Claude and Tre Jackson carried the Catamounts on offense, combining for 35 of the team’s 55 total points.
After a slow start for both teams to begin the game in which only 2 total points were scored over the first 4:53 of action, the Dawgs looked impressive for the remainder of the first half. Georgia shot an even 50% from the floor, including conversions on 3 of their 5 3-Point attempts, while holding WCU to a lackluster 8-31 performance. Oquendo scored 12 of his 18 points in the first period and mustered a highlight-reel block that would be his first of three for the game. Additionally, the Bulldogs limited a team that last year ranked third in the country in 3-Point attempts to only 1 made triple on 7 attempts, demonstrating successful execution of White’s game plan to run the Catamounts off the arc.
Unfortunately, the turnover woes that plagued the team last season seem to have crept forward into the new year despite all the staff and roster upheaval. The Dawgs turned the ball over 11 times in the first half and a total of 21 times for the game. On the bright side, the squad covered their mistakes on the defensive end in the first half, allowing just 2 Western Carolina points off turnovers.
Another bright spot for the Bulldogs in the first half shone through the play of Oklahoma State transfer Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, who scored 6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds while posting a +15 in his 13 minutes of action. Moncrieffe suffered an ankle apparent injury towards the end of the half, according to Mike White, and was unable to return to action. The status of his injury remains unclear.
To say the Dawgs came out flat to start the second half would be a dramatic understatement, as they turned the ball over 6 times to facilitate a 15-3 Western Carolina scoring run over the first 6 minutes to cut the Georgia lead to just 3 points at a score of 40-37 at the 14-minute mark. Tre Jackson caught fire from beyond the arc during the run, draining 3 triples to give the Catamounts life. A pair of and-1’s from Anselem and Jabri Abdur-Rahim would eventually stop the bleeding and push the Georgia lead back to 8 points by the 11:30 mark. Held without a field goal for most of the second half, Oquendo came alive down the stretch to pour in a quick five-point burst in 40 seconds to give the Bulldogs some breathing room and an 11-point lead with 5:51 to play. From there, Georgia would hang on to secure the 13-point win.
Despite their second-half struggles, the new Georgia team showed impressive resilience in their response to adversity during their first action of the season, which should excite Dawg fans. Even with so much change, Monday night’s contest made it clear that one thing, or player, has remained the same. Kario Oquendo exhibited his usual flashes of athletic brilliance and showed that he has put in the work in the offseason to shoot more consistently from deep by knocking down 2 of 3 3-Pointers. Bulldog nation can expect an All-SEC caliber season from a returning player, which is a statement that has not been made about Georgia Basketball in a very long time.
The first win of the Mike White era will be short-lived in the minds of those inside of the UGA locker room as the team prepares to travel to Winston Salem for an away game at Wake Forrest on Friday, November 11th.