The Georgia Bulldogs (18-8; 7-5) looked like an NCAA tournament team on Saturday in their 69-63 win over the Tennessee Volunteers. This was a game that Tennessee needed as badly as Georgia, making the victory that much more impressive.
Georgia used a 17-0 run in the first half to build up a 22-7 lead, and they weathered the Vols’ first run to take a 33-25 lead into the half. There may have been a lid on the rim that Tennessee was shooting on before the break, but Georgia was playing some pretty inspired defense as well. Coach Mark Fox did a beautiful job of changing his defense from man to zone, keeping the Vols offense off rhythm.
If it weren’t for a career game from Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson, Georgia would have run away with this one early on. Hopson was unstoppable, torching Georgia for 32 points on a barrage of drives, dunks and three-pointers.
Tennessee turned up the defensive intensity coming out of intermission however, and with 9:27 left they had a 48-45 lead, as well as all the momentum and a raucous Knoxville crowd behind them.
In the face of adversity and with their backs against the wall, the Dawgs simply fought back. Trey Thompkins shot wasn’t working on Saturday, so his teammates picked up the slack. During the game’s final ten minutes, Jeremy Price scored 8, Dustin Ware had 6 and Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie each netted 4 points (Trey had two as well).
Georgia was led in Knoxville by Jeremy Price’s 20 points, with three other players scoring in double-figures for Coach Fox – Leslie (15), Ware (12), Thompkins (11).
Trey was clearly frustrated offensively, finishing just 4 of 14 from the floor on the game. However, he showed a lot of leadership in his effort on Saturday. Thompkins led the Dawgs with 9 rebounds, 7 of which came on the defensive end. His hands were active on defense, creating 6 steals (career best) and swatting 2 shots.
Georgia limited Tennessee to just 9 offensive boards, their second-lowest tally of the season. Coach Mark Fox had clearly challenged his team to perform better on the defensive glass after they had yielded 23 o-rebs to Vanderbilt in Athens on Wednesday. The Dawgs responded by keeping the Vols off the boards, and winning the rebounding battle 35-27.
At 7-5 in the conference, Georgia is now tied with Kentucky for third place in the SEC East. If the Dawgs can split their last four games (holding serve at home), they will finish the season with a winning league record.
On Friday, ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb had the Dawgs listed as “out” of this year’s NCAA Tournament field.
After Georgia’s inspired road win over Tennessee on Saturday, he might need to reevaluate his drawing board.