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Post Dawgs dispatch Auburn 80-65, Florida next

Friday March 9, 2007

After a shaky start that put Auburn up 10-3, the Dawgs tightened up on defense, started hitting from outside, and took over the game. They blew open a 19-19 tie to lead by ten at halftime, and Auburn got no closer in the second half. Levi Stukes had 22 points and scored 14 during a key first half push that left Auburn behind. Takais Brown scored 19 and added a career-high 13 rebounds. Sundiata Gaines was one assist short of a double-double of his own.

The outcome was the same as most times that Georgia’s "trinity" plays well. They won. When Gaines, Stukes, and Brown have good games, Georgia wins. Of course others contribute. Woodbury had some timely baskets, Humphrey is becoming more and more assertive on offense, and Singleton continues to improve inside. They play valuable roles. Still, Georgia is a different team when its three best players all do their thing.

The three combined to create an impossible situation for Auburn. The Tigers, undersized up front, doubled down on Brown. The attention given to Brown created open looks for Stukes outside, and it opened up penetration lanes for Gaines and others. Classic inside-outside basketball. Auburn’s pressure also helped Georgia’s offense. Though the Dawgs struggled with the pressure at first, they were often able to beat the trap and create 2-on-1 and other transition opportunities that led to easy baskets.

On the defensive end, Georgia quickly adjusted to a 5-of-5 start by Auburn and played much of the rest of the game in a successful 1-3-1 zone. They trapped effectively out of this zone, forced Auburn into bad shots, and created over 20 turnovers.

The win is Georgia’s first in the SEC Tournament since Dennis Felton’s first Bulldog team beat Auburn in 2004, and it’s just Georgia’s second SEC Tournament victory since 1998. The series with Auburn is as tight in basketball as it is in football: Georgia’s win last night gave them a 86-85 advantage in the all-time series with the Tigers.

Georgia’s reward for this nice win? A third game against top-seeded Florida tonight at 7:30. We all know what’s at stake, but I hope the guys just go out and enjoy this one. They’ve had a nice season, shown improvement, and last night’s win was another step forward. Florida has dominated each of the two meetings this season, but Georgia has played them close enough to look at some what-ifs. In the game at Gainesville, Georgia turned the ball over more than 20 times. It was a close game for much of the way, but Florida pulled away late. In Athens, Georgia’s three-point shooting was off. They didn’t turn the ball over much at all in that game, but they couldn’t hit shots. Florida built a nice lead during the first half and kept Georgia more or less at arm’s length.

For Georgia to have a chance in this third meeting, they’ll need another strong night from the Big Three. They’ll also need to disrupt some element of Florida’s inside-outside game. Whether they limit the outside shooting or take on the much tougher task of slowing Horford and Noah, it’ll be a big job. They must do all of the little things in this game – rebound, limit turnovers, value possessions, hit free throws. Is this the night where Georgia makes a huge move, or are they still just a hair short of being ready?

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