ATLANTA (AP) -- Welcome back to the Southeastern Conference
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
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
Georgia finished off the half with a flourish. Wright worked
himself free and swished a 3-pointer just before the buzzer
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
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.