February 27, 2010

Dawgs hang on to upend rival Gators

One of the stigmas Georgia coach Mark Fox knew he had to overcome upon taking over the Bulldog basketball program was convincing his players that they could be successful, despite what some of their detractors might say.

If the Bulldogs' 78-76 victory over Florida Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum is any indication, it appears they're starting to believe.

"I think they they're starting to expect to win. I think that maybe they're starting to believe that they're better than you guys thought they would be, if you had a vote in the league, I don't know," Fox said. "But I think they're starting to believe that they're a pretty solid little basketball team and I'm happy to see that."

Fox was particularly pleased considering his team was coming off a heart-breaking 96-94 loss to Vanderbilt last Thursday night in Nashville.

But despite the defeat, Fox made a prediction - one that came true with Saturday's win, just Georgia's second over the rival Gators in 14 previous games.

"I told them after the game the other night that you're tough enough to come back and beat Florida. You're tough enough to pick yourself off the mat and do it again," Fox said. "(Friday) we had pretty good energy, but I also told them getting close is not what we came here to do. As hard as we competed at Vandy, we didn't get the job done and it was our responsibility to play a little bit better."

This one went down to the final buzzer and left the crowd of 9,262 holding its collective breath.

After holding a 15-point halftime lead, the Bulldogs saw that lead steadily dwindle until the Gators cut the margin to two and had the ball with 11.1 seconds to try and tie or win the game.

However, Albert Jackson was having none of that as he swatted away a pass with 0.1 seconds left. A subsequent quick pass and shot by the Gators fell way off the mark, securing the win for Georgia, which once again pulled within one game of .500 (13-14) and improved the Bulldogs to 5-9 in league play.

Ironically, the only East Division team Georgia has yet to be beat - Kentucky - pays a visit to Stegeman Coliseum Wednesday night.

Jackson was not available for comment as Fox limited post-game player interviews to Vincent Williams, Demario Mayfield and Ebuka Anayorah - not that they didn't play a significant role in Saturday's victory.

The trio combined for 16 of Georgia's 31 points off the bench, a fact the players and the coach said played a huge role in the win.

"Coach let us know that the bench really needed to step up. The starters get exhausted and they really get beat up here at the end of the season," Anayorah said. "He wanted us to go out there and play as hard as we can ad our bench really stepped up today. We came in, tried to contribute, make an impact and that's what we did."

Fox, who has been one of his bench's biggest critics, had to agree.

"Our bench has been criticized and I've been one of the ones criticizing. I told them after the game they really helped us; I told them at the half they were really helping us," Fox said. "(Ricky) McPhee and Travis (Leslie) both had two fouls early and it was really important for those guys. DeMario Mayfield has been extremely patient but he came in and gave us a big boost the first half. Ebuka made some nice plays, Drazen (Zloravic) gave us a few minutes while Vincent has been growing steadily and took a big charge there at one point in the game. Our bench tonight really helped us and they should be credited for that."

Florida coach Billy Donovan was quick to shower praise on the Bulldogs for the win, Georgia's 12th in 15 games at Stegeman Coliseum.

"Give Georgia a lot of credit. They played a great game. I thought they played a great game at Vanderbilt the other night - and if it wasn't for two missed free throws they would have won," Donovan said. "Their season has been a lot like that. So often we look at what we did wrong, but I think we need to give Georgia a lot of credit. Mark's team is playing really well and he's done a great job. They showed a lot of resilience after a tough road loss on Thursday."

Trey Thompkins led the Bulldogs with 20 points, 14 coming in the first half. He was followed by Jeremy Price with 13, Leslie with 12 and Dustin Ware with 10.

Chandler Parsons poured in 29 for Florida with Kenny Boynton chipping in 22, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.

Georgia dominated the first half.

The score was 17-17 through nine minutes until the Bulldogs put together a 12-0 run to push the margin to 29-17.

Georgia's uprising was helped by a technical foul on Donovan, which Ware used to convert a pair of free throws before a short jumped by Williams gave the Bulldogs' their 12-point advantage.

Florida came back to close within three points at 31-28, but Georgia roared back to outscore the Gators 14-2 over the final 3:34 to go into half up 45-30.

Thompkins, who tossed in 14 first-half points, accounted for three with a 3-pointer from just to the right of the key with four seconds to go.

The Bulldogs also received some strong play from their bench, outscoring Florida 15-0 the first 20 minutes, including five from the seldom-used Mayfield.

"This was a hard-fought SEC game. We beat an excellent basketball team who coming in today was playing as well if not better than anybody in the league," Fox said. "They made a hard charge in the second half and we were fortunate to have a big cushion because they came at us really strong. We feel fortunate to win and we are going to enjoy it."

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