GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Georgia showed again Saturday it could contend with one of the top teams in the country.
The Bulldogs still haven't learned how to pull off the upset.
Georgia allowed a slim halftime lead to slip away against No. 3 Florida, and the defending national champions started SEC play with an emphatic 67-51 victory in front of 11,344 at the O'Connell Center.
Slender forward Corey Brewer and center Joakim Noah each had double-doubles for the Gators (14-2, 1-0 in the SEC), who finished off the Bulldogs (8-5, 0-1) with an 11-0 scoring run.
Georgia, which has lost four straight, won the rebounding battle against Florida but was outscored 40-23 inside the paint and committed 22 turnovers.
Power forward Takais Brown was one of three Bulldogs with 10 points. He said Georgia must correct its turnover problems if the Bulldogs plan on ending their losing skid anytime soon.
"We've got to learn to take better care of the ball," Brown said. "When we learn how to do that, we'll be a lot better team."
Mike Mercer certainly is not doing the Bulldogs' offense any favors. After shooting almost 50 percent from the field eight games into the season, the sophomore's shooting has collapsed. He was 3-for-14 against the Gators, making him 14-for-55 from the field (25.4 percent) and 2-for-15 from 3-point range during the last four games. He has averaged 9.8 points.
"Teams have turned up the defensive pressure on me," he said. "They look at the stat line and they assume that the highest-scoring person is the more aggressive one, so they're being more aggressive with me."
Georgia coach Dennis Felton said Mercer's struggles were a factor in the loss to the Gators.
"There's no doubt that when Mike is playing well and making shots that makes a huge difference," Felton said. "If he shoots 50 percent (Saturday), it changes the whole fabric of the game."
Despite 11 turnovers and not going to the foul line until the second half, Georgia took a 26-25 lead into halftime after the Bulldogs beat Florida's press and Rashaad Singleton dunked with 1:35 left.
But Florida retaliated in the first minute of the second half with Brewer hitting a jumper to give the Gators the lead for good. When guard Levi Stukes stripped the ball from Brewer with 8:47 left, Georgia had a chance to pull to within three points on his breakaway.
But Brewer regrouped on defense, chased down Stukes and swatted the ball off the backboard. Chris Richards scored on the ensuing possession to push Florida's lead to seven."I turned it over, so I had to get back there and get it back,"
Georgia resumes conference play Wednesday at home against Vanderbilt, giving the Bulldogs a reprieve from some of the nation's best. After losses to Georgia Tech, at No. 23 Clemson, No. 4 Wisconsin and Florida, Georgia could use a break.
"Let's face it; we've just gone through what could possibly be the most-challenging stretch of games in the history of the program," Felton said.
Reach John Kaltefleiter at (706) 208-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.