February 16, 2008

Oh, so close, Dawgs fall to Vols

Sundiata Gaines didn't listen to Coach Dennis Felton in the waning moments of Saturday's game against Tennessee and that decision almost helped the Bulldogs upset the fourth-ranked Volunteers.

Trailing the Volunteers by three points with 2.7 seconds left, Gaines was at the free-throw line for the first of a 1-and-1.

Conventional wisdom had Gaines make the first three throw and miss the second, have somebody snare the rebound and put back a shot to hopefully win the game.

But Gaines had other plans.

Instead, the senior intentionally missed his first attempt, grabbed the rebound and heaved a desperation 3-pointer which bounced twice off the rim, allowing Tennessee to hold off the Bulldogs 74-71.

"Coach told me to make the first and miss the second but I kind of knew myself that if I made the first, there would be more get-up for my second shot. So I tried to shoot it and have it hit the front of the rim," Gaines said. "I wanted to have it hit and ricochet back toward me, which it did. The ball bounced my way; I got it and went right to the 3-point line."

Gaines gave it a great effort.

With Gaines sprawled on the floor, the basketball bounced high off the rim once, and then a second time before falling to the floor.

"I'm an expert at seeing the ball before it reaches its apex and have a pretty good feeling whether or not it's going in and what it did was just about what I thought. When I was going up I didn't think it was going in, but it was close enough to have a chance," Felton said. "I thought it was an incredibly heads up play by Yata, too. We didn't want to miss the first one. We wanted to make the first one and miss the second and have a free-throw, rebound play on to get it back and score to at least tie it up."

Georgia (12-11, 3-7) gave the Volunteers (23-2, 10-1) all they could handle, and more.

The game saw seven lead changes, the final one coming with 13:15 to play on a layup by JaJuan Smith to put Tennessee up 52-51.

Tennessee's lead great to nine points at 71-62 with 5:10 to play, but Georgia whittled away, cutting the margin to the final 74-71 score at the 2:38 mark on a bucket by freshman Zac Swansey.

The Bulldogs would get three more shots at tying the game but failed to convert, including a 3-point attempt by Terrance Woodbury with 8.2 seconds left.

If not for All-Conference guard Chris Lofton, the Bulldogs would likely have pulled the upset.

After going just 1-for-6 shooting in the first half, Lofton caught fire in the second, going 5-for-7 from 3-point range, effectively quelling Georgia rallies with each converted shot. He scored 19 of his team-high 22 points in the second half.

"Chris Lofton is a tremendous luxury to have on this team," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Him going out there and scoring 19 points in the second half willed us to victory. His determination in the second half to put the team on his back and get the win is what drove us to victory."

Tennessee's superior depth played dividends, too.

Already without Billy Humphrey, who was serving the final game of his three-game suspension, the Bulldogs found themselves in early foul trouble and played most of the second half with forwards Dave Bliss and Jeremy Price in foul trouble with four apiece.

Three Bulldogs - Gaines, Swansey and Woodbury - played at least 37 minutes each, with Gaines turning in 40 minutes of court time for the second consecutive game.

"He (Gaines) played probably at least a third of the game in total exhaustion, as did some of our other players," Felton said. "I thought a big part of the outcome was the fact that they were so much deeper and were able to stay far fresher than we were. We had different stages of cramping coming on so that I think turned out to be an impact on the game."

Despite being winded, Gaines still finished with a team-high 23 points with nine rebounds and eight assists. Woodbury was next with 14 points followed by Swansey with 10.

Wayne Chism added 16 points for Tennessee with Tyler Smith and Jordan Howell adding 12 each.
Tennessee out-rebounded Georgia 45-41.

"I'm just really, really proud of our team. They were very, very much on point with game plan, they were aggressiveness was great, and made it the war that it was," Felton said. "I don't think there's a team in the country that's better than Tennessee. They're easily one of the top three teams in the country."

NOTES: Chris Barnes (eye) dressed out with the Bulldogs and finished with six points. Barnes did sprain his left knee in the second half and had the injury wrapped after the game.

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