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Friday March 12, 2010

Mark Fox’s Bulldogs picked a great time for their first win of the season outside of the state of Georgia. In fact, Georgia’s 77-64 win over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament was Georgia’s first victory in an SEC Tournament game outside of Georgia since 1997 when the Bulldogs made a run to the tournament finals in Memphis.

Georgia knew from experience that Arkansas was more than capable of making a second half push that could erase a Bulldog lead, but this time the Dawgs were ready. The Razorbacks’ Courtney Fortson dominated the game down the stretch in their win over Georgia in Athens, but Georgia’s duo of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie took over this time. With 5:27 left, Fortson hit a shot that cut Georgia’s lead to five. A Thompkins basket and a few free throws pushed the margin to seven, and then Georgia turned to its gameplan to put the game away. The Bulldogs exploited a size advantage by bringing the posts outside and letting Travis Leslie get position inside. Fox explained,

…we walked through that very set that we ran there in our shootaround today, and we felt like, if they played three guards, that we would have an advantage with Travis on the low-block area. And so those two kids were dialled in mentally and were able to take advantage of that.

Leslie found himself in that position on consecutive possessions, and he converted two easy baskets that iced the game. The Bulldogs held on the defensive end, cleaned up on the glass, and made sure that their lead would not evaporate again. Thompkins finished with an impressive 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Leslie added 21 in one of his best games in weeks.

The win earns Georgia another shot at Vanderbilt. The Dawgs handled the Commodores in Athens, and we still have a pretty fresh memory of that heartbreaking last-minute collapse in Nashville and the overtime loss just a few weeks ago. Georgia matches up well with Vandy, but we know that the Commodores are a quality veteran team that has to be tired of hearing about how well Georgia has played them. The Bulldogs will have to continue to own the glass, be a bit more judicious with fouls among the frontcourt players, and continue to reduce those “November turnovers” as Fox called them. Thompkins and Leslie will have to show up big again of course, but the ability to defend Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins could be the biggest key for the Bulldogs in tonight’s game.

Clay Travis made note of the disappointing turnout by the Arkansas faithful, and that was pretty apparent on TV too. I guess it is kind of sad. I also remember some of those great tournaments in the 1990s when Arkansas and Kentucky, led by Richardson and Pitino, were slugging it out in the years after Arkansas joined the conference. We know all about the “Catlanta” phenomenon these days when the tournament comes to the Dome, but Arkansas fans turned the Memphis Pyramid arena into the “Pigamid” in the years that the tournament was held on the banks of the Mississippi. It was surreal experience for fans of other schools for the Kentucky and Arkansas fans, who basically shared about 90% of the arena, to go back and forth between “GO BIG BLUE” and calling the Hogs in the middle of a game that involved neither team.

It seemed that Georgia had to face Arkansas every year in the quarterfinals. The Dawgs would get by a team like LSU on Thursday, and then Thurman and Williamson and 10,000 fans in a different shade of red were waiting to send Georgia home the next day. Arkansas hasn’t been that scary in a long time, and as Travis writes, those once-fearsome and omnipresent fans aren’t buying what John Pelphrey is selling.

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