1:00 PM ET, March 11, 2004
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) -- Welcome back to the Southeastern Conference tournament, Georgia.The Bulldogs, who pulled out last season because of an academic scandal, started the game with an 11-0 run and cruised to a 73-59 victory over Auburn in the opening round Thursday.Freshman Levi Stukes scored a career-high 25 points -- all but one on 3-pointers -- to lead Georgia (16-12) into a Friday quarterfinal game against No. 8 Kentucky.Auburn (14-14) can only hope for the National Invitation Tournament after reaching the NCAA round of 16 in 2003. But the Tigers might get left out altogether after losing for the fifth time in six games.The Bulldogs are moving on. They already have upset Kentucky twice this season, and an improbable trifecta would likely clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament.Georgia were set to go last year until the academic shenanigans that cost Jim Harrick his coaching job. When news of the scandal emerged, the Bulldogs pulled one of the nation's better teams out of the entire postseason.Dennis Felton took over the program and began to clean up the mess, even though he had only seven scholarship players. The Bulldogs came into tournament on a mission -- especially the four seniors, who were determined to make up for what they missed a year ago.Chris Daniels scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Rashad Wright added 12 points. But it was Stukes, the only non-senior in the lineup, who made the biggest contribution.The 6-foot-1 guard burned the Tigers time and time again from the outside, hitting 8-of-12 beyond the 3-point arc.Auburn was out of this game right from the start. While Georgia was scoring the first 11 points, the Tigers were having trouble getting off a shot. On their first eight possessions, they turned the ball over seven times and managed only one shot. It missed, of course.Georgia finished off the half with a flourish. Wright worked himself free and swished a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded.The Bulldogs sprinted off the court with a 42-22 lead, while the Tigers looked as though they had just taken a knockout punch. Guard Lewis Monroe hobbled off the court with an injured left foot, while assistant head coach Tracy Dildy looked up at the scoreboard and shook his head, as if he couldn't believe the beating his team was taking.Monroe came back for the second half on crutches, watching the rest of the game from the bench. Marco Killingsworth scored 19 points, but the five Auburn starters combined for just 14. Three of them failed to score at all.Georgia maintained a double-digit lead for the final 32:40 and never let up its defensive intensity. Leading by 19 late in the game, the Bulldogs prevented Auburn from getting off an attempt before the shot clock expired.At the end, Wright hopped up and down near midcourt while the Georgia fans saluted their team with a standing ovation.