Originally created 01/24/02

Georgia shows up doubters



ATHENS, Ga. - Some people might be surprised that Georgia has sole possession of the top spot in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

But to Ezra Williams and the rest of the Bulldogs' basketball team, this isn't a shock. It's simply what they've expected all along.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Williams said Wednesday after No. 15 Georgia dominated Arkansas 81-67 before 10,323 fans at Stegeman Coliseum. "Me and the guys on this team knew what we were capable of doing in the preseason."

Not many others did. The prognosticators, who pegged Georgia fifth in the SEC East before the season, would have offered a hearty laugh if told the Bulldogs would win 16 of their first 19 games and own a 5-1 record in the SEC.

"You laugh now; you cry later," said Williams, a junior swingman.

There wasn't much weeping by the Bulldogs after they made easy work of Arkansas, which shot a season-low 34 percent and has lost four consecutive games for the first time since joining the SEC in 1991.

The Bulldogs were leading by 19 points with 11:32 left in the game and were seldom challenged, despite shooting 33 percent from the field in the second half.

Sophomore swingman Jarvis Hayes scored a game-high 21 points and pulled down 10 points for the Bulldogs, who made 28 of 31 free throws. Sophomore forward Chris Daniels added 17 points and 13 rebounds.

"Any time you're coming off a game we played against Florida, you expect to be a little raggedy," said Georgia coach Jim Harrick, whose team upset the then-No. 2 Gators in Gainesville, Fla., last week.

Georgia took a 34-24 lead into halftime, but the game didn't turn completely until later. The Razorbacks (10-8, 2-4) had cut the Bulldogs' lead to 38-33 while Georgia was missing nine of its first 10 shots and committing two turnovers.

The Bulldogs went from cold to sizzling in an instant. Hayes hit a pull-up jumper from the left wing, followed a missed 3-pointer by Rashad Wright, then drilled a 3-pointer off an inbounds pass.

The Bulldogs' lead was decidedly more comfortable at 45-33, but they weren't done. Freshman swingman Fred Gibson drove the right baseline and was fouled as he scooped in a shot between his legs.

He made the free throw to push it to 48-33, then Hayes hit two free throws on Georgia's next trip down the floor to pump the lead to 17 points. After Daniels followed a missed shot by Jonas Hayes with a dunk, the Bulldogs had completed a 14-0 run in 2:25 to put the game away.

The comfortable lead gave Harrick some valuable time to insert seldom-used point guard Mike Dean. The freshman became Georgia's No. 2 point guard after Tony Cole was suspended from the team recently, and he showed some encouraging signs by scoring nine points and dishing three assists in 17 minutes despite committing three turnovers.

"He got the rust off," Harrick said of Dean, who had averaged 5.6 minutes per game. "I wanted to see what he could do."

Georgia plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday and at South Carolina on Jan. 30.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.