March 2, 2011

Win puts Dawgs on cusp of NCAAs

Is it time for Georgia basketball team to think about ordering some dancing shoes?

Although the Bulldogs won't know that for sure until a week from this Sunday, Mark Fox's squad certainly appears to have put itself in good position to earn the coveted NCAA berth after trouncing visiting LSU Wednesday night 73-53 before a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 8,642.

"Nine wins in this league with a chance of 10; 20 wins in the regular season anda good non-conference resume … I wouldn't say we're in the NCAA Tournament or we can be satisfied with where we sit," Fox said. "Now, if I was sitting here with the selection committee and some other coaches, I'd argue all day for our team. You're darn right about that. I'd argue all day for our team because I think we've put ourselves in great position. But we still have games to play, and we can't be satisfied."

LSU coach Trent Johnson doesn't think the Bulldogs have a thing to worry about in regards to getting a bid.

In his mind, Georgia had sewn up a spot in the 68-team field long before Wednesday's contest.

"Yeah, two weeks ago," Johnson said. "I think I know what a good tournament team looks like and they're very effective and very explosive. I don't know what everyone is worrying about. There's no question to me."

The Bulldogs have reason to feel good about their chances.

The victory over the Tigers gave Georgia (20-9, 9-6) its first 20-win regular season since Tubby Smith's 1996-1997 squad.

Ron Jirsa's 1997-1998 Bulldog team also won 20 games, but four of those victories came in postseason play, including the SEC Tourney and the NIT which saw Georgia advance to the Final Four at Madison Square Garden.

But before the Bulldogs worry about actually making the NCAA, there's still plenty of basketball to go before that.

With a win in the regular-season finale Saturday at Alabama and losses by Kentucky and Vanderbilt, Georgia will finish second in the SEC East and earn a first-round bye in next week's SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome.

The Bulldogs, Wildcats and Commodores each currently have identical 9-6 conference records, but Kentucky and Vanderbilt would each hold the advantage in any tiebreaker, be it a three-way or the two-way scenario.

"It was a good win tonight," senior Chris Barnes said. "We got our 20th win in the regular season which is something Georgia hasn't done in a long time. We still have got many tough games to play. We still have to play Alabama which will be tough because they're undefeated at home."

The task may be even tougher after leading scorer Trey Thompkins re-aggravated a toe injury(toenail) and according to Fox is questionable for the game against the Crimson Tide.

Georgia was already without one of its top reserves in freshman Marcus Thornton, who did not play in Wednesday's game due to what Fox described as a "cut" on his arm, which was wrapped to help avoid infection.

But at least on this night, the Senior Night celebration outweighed any potential bad news.

Gerald Robinson Jr. led the Bulldogs with 16 points while Dustin Ware hit 5-of-7 three-pointers to finish with 15 points, followed by Travis Leslie with 14 and Jeremy Price with 11.

Price, who along with Barnes were honored on the court with their families prior to tip-off, provided Bulldog hoop fans with a memorable moment in the game's waning moments when he stopped to kiss the G at midcourt before walking off to a standing ovation.

"Me and Matt Bucklin planned that out this morning," Price said. "I was like, 'Might as well.'"

Barnes laughed that it was actually supposed to be him.

"I was supposed to do that but (Price) took my idea," Barnes said. "I didn't have anything planned. I would have gone running through the stands but my legs started to hurt. So, I was like 'Forget it.' But it was a special night."

The Bulldogs got off to a sluggish start.

LSU(11-19, 3-12) jumped out to a quick 13-4 lead as Georgia only converted a pair of field goals in the first 5:54 of the game before rallying back.

A pair of back-to-back 3-pointers by Ware helped do the trick, first to bring Georgia within three points before tying the game at 17-17 with 8:41 in the half.

The Tigers quickly reclaimed the lead at 19-17 but the Bulldogs were able to close out the half on a 13-6 run to go into the lockerroom up 30-25. Georgia outscored LSU in the second half 43-28.

"LSU (which started three freshmen) hit us in the mouth early but after that I think our defense played pretty well," Fox said. "They are a great rebounding team and you have to give them a lot of credit. They are a hard-nosed team and when they grow up, they are going to be a handful."

NOTES: In order to finish second in the SEC East, the Bulldogs need to beat Alabama Saturday and have Vanderbilt fall at home to Florida and Kentucky lose at Tennessee on Sunday. According to conference tie-breaker rules, the Bulldogs would come up short in any tie between either Vanderbilt or Kentucky. In the event of a three-way tie, the first tie-breaker will be the won-lost record of games played among the tied teams. Entering Saturday's regular season finale, Vanderbilt is 3-1, Kentucky 2-2 and Georgia is 1-3. … As of Feb. 28, the Bulldogs came in with an RPI of 36, just two spots behind Tennessee (No. 34).

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