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March 10, 2011Auburn's Chris Denson had the best performance of his career, but it wasn't enough to help extend the Tigers' season.
Denson led the team with 21 points in Auburn's 69-51 loss to Georgia in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The loss concluded the Tigers' 2010-11 campaign, giving them an 11-20 overall record.
"I'm proud of the way my kids fought all year long," said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. "What could have been a long and difficult year because of the wins and the losses can separate or divide a team, and this team has stayed together all season long. And fight, they did all the way to the end. So I'm proud of them for that.
"But again, Georgia, they're a talented team. I said that coming in. Their size and their strength and their bulk up front was a major concern. We had to win the paint to win this game and we didn't. Hats off to Georgia because they dominated us in that area of the game."
Georgia (21-10) has a chance to bolster its NCAA tournament hopes when it faces Alabama, the Western Division's No. 1 seed, in Friday's SEC quarterfinals.
Try Thompkins, a 6-foot-10 junior, is ranked among the SEC leaders with his averages of 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds despite battling ankle, shin and toe injuries. He said Wednesday he is "100 percent, ready to go" for the postseason. He added 10 rebounds to help support his claim.
Travis Leslie had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Gerald Robinson added 11 points for Georgia.
Thompkins recorded only his second game with 20 or more points in his last 12 games.
Auburn closed its regular season with back-to-back comeback wins over Mississippi and LSU, overcoming double-digit deficits in each game, and found itself in familiar territory against Georgia.
The Tigers fell behind in the opening minutes as the Bulldogs scored the first five points and never trailed.
Thompkins scored Georgia's final seven points of the first half as the Bulldogs took a big lead of 15 points at 34-19 before settling for a 34-23 advantage at the break.
Thompkins had two three-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half to help Georgia pad its lead.
Auburn junior forward Kenny Gabriel was coming of performances that earned him SEC Player of the Week honors, but managed just seven points against the Bulldogs. He contributed three rebounds to Auburn's total of 22.
"We couldn't get stops and rebounds," Gabriel said. "I didn't rebound the ball very well today. And we just got out-rebounded."
In the days leading up to the game, Barbee mentioned how difficult it is for players to matchup against the Bulldogs' squad that is loaded with large athletes.
"I don't know of another team maybe in our league or across the country that can matchup with them physically," Barbee said. "Across the front line. It seems like they go to the bench and there's another 6'9" guy that's about 260 that they bring off the bench. But they're not just big, they're skilled. They can play, and their guards are big. They're not long, but they're all physical. They're all men out there.
"So I said it all year long, we were lucky to play the way we were, the way we played them in Athens. And I knew this was going to be a difficult game tonight because not only they're big, they're talented, and well coached. Coach Fox does a great job."
The season began with Auburn suffering a loss to Columbus State in an exhibition game, but ended with two consecutive wins against solid SEC opponents.
Gabriel admitted that it was difficult to go through the downs of the season, but said the team was determined to stay positive.
"After every loss, we would say we always say, "Family," and that's one thing that we can lean on, we can lean on each other," Gabriel said. "But with all the tough losses that we had and all the bad losses that we had, we know that we have been in every game. But when it's all said and done, at the end of the day, I mean, we stuck together and that's how we got this far in the season."
The young Tigers will lose just one senior, walk-on Doug Merrell, in the offseason. Denson believes the future is bright for the Auburn basketball program.
"We got a lot of rebuilding to do," Denson said. "We're young. We got a lot of good dudes coming in next year, so hopefully we'll do way better than this. I know we will, because Coach Barbee and the coaching staff is great and we'll have great players next year."