February 26, 2011

Dawgs stroll past Gamecocks

This time, there would be no second-half letdown.

As a result, Georgia took another important step towards a possible NCAA berth with a 64-48 victory over South Carolina Saturday night before a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 10,355.

"We just played hard for 40 minutes," said junior Trey Thompkins, who led the Bulldogs with 20 points. "There was a time when they made a run but Coach (Mark) Fox told us that it was not going to happen. We had to bounce back and we did so."

After racing out to a 39-22 halftime lead, Georgia watched the Gamecocks scored the first five points of the second stanza to pull within 12. But unlike six other contests which have seen the Bulldogs fall after leading at half, this time Georgia was able to maintain its advantage.

A quick timeout by Fox seemed to do the trick as it settled down the Bulldogs (19-9, 8-6), who bounced back to extend the margin to 24 points before finishing for the 16-point win.

With the victory, the Bulldogs (19-9, 8-6) remain in a third-place tie with Kentucky (20-8, 8-6) in the SEC Eastern Division after the No. 22 Wildcats beat No. 13 and division-leading Florida 76-68 in Lexington.

"We were up 17 points at the half and we were up 17 points at the half in Columbia. I told them that very thing," Fox said. "We just have to grow as competitors to be able to sustain our effort and concentration mentally. We talked about that. We didn't start the half well. We had to use a timeout, but after that timeout forward we played pretty solid basketball."

Junior Travis Leslie said Fox made his point quite clear.

"He was just telling us to pick it up," said Leslie, who tallied 15 points. "We just decided we could not let them do that. It all started coming together."

With the two more regular season games to go - Wednesday against LSU and Saturday at Alabama - Georgia appears to be ever so closer to a berth in the 68-team NCAA field.

However, Fox isn't counting on anything just yet, despite the fact his team is guaranteed of finishing at least .500 in conference play, which some at point felt would assure his team of the coveted NCAA berth.

"We need to continue to win as many as we can. We're going to worry about the next game," Fox said. "We're not worried about anything past that. It is significant because we're going to have at least a .500 record in league play and we've got more games to play."

For the game Georgia shot 46 percent from the field (23-of-50) while holding the Gamecocks to just 17-of-60 (28.3 percent), including just 1-of-19 from three-point range.

"Our defense has been getting better," Fox said. "Tonight we played better defense for two halves and we were able to sustain it a little longer tonight."

Senior Jeremy Price added 14 points for the Bulldogs, although he could have had at least two in the first half more but passed up an easy bucket to attempt a toss-back pass to Leslie who was fouled and failed to convert what would have been a Coliseum-rattling slam.

"He turned down a layup for that play. It almost gave me a heart attack and he almost died," Fox said. "We got caught up in emotion and he knew it was probably not smartest play. Fortunately for us it didn't cost us."

Leslie blamed himself for the missed connection.

"That could have been everywhere (on TV). I just could not get the handle on the ball," Leslie said. "I guess it was a risk that somebody could have gotten hurt, plus we also gave up two points, so I guess it wasn't a good idea."

For the seventh straight game, Georgia jumped out to the lead at the half, taking a 39-22 advantage into the lockerroom.

It should have been more than that.

After scoring nine points in the first half of the team's first meeting, South Carolina shot just 28.1 percent (9-for-32) in the opening frame Saturday, including 0-for-10 from three-point range.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were having no such problems.

Georgia, which went on an early 7-0 run to push its lead to 12-4, shot 14-for-25 the first half including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Thompkins, who scored 14 points the first half, was responsible for two of the threes with Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware hitting one each. The Bulldogs missed all seven of their three-point attempts in the second half.

A dunk by Robinson with 59 seconds left gave Georgia its biggest lead at 39-18 of the first half before South Carolina tallied the final four points to pull within 17.

"I've got a lot of respect for South Carolina. They came back against Vanderbilt both times, came back against us the first game so I never felt we could relax until the last 30 seconds where maybe I had a chance to enjoy it," Fox said. "But I was proud of our team, I was proud of our crowd and I was proud of a lot of things involved at Georgia tonight."

Georgia returns to action Wednesday night against LSU. Gametime is set for 8 p.m.

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