ATLANTA – The Cinderella slipper fit a Bulldog named UGA on Sunday afternoon.
Despite almost blowing all of a 19-point first-half lead and a 13-point second-half one, Georgia steadied itself and completed an improbable SEC Tournament Championship run by downing the University of Arkansas 66-57 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
The Bulldogs (17-16), who became only the third team to win four games in four days in SEC Tournament play, did so amidst speculation that head coach Dennis Felton was going to be fired and forced itself into the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid.
"Congratulations to Georgia," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "They were just the better basketball team from start to finish. Our guys fought and battled to get themselves back in it. We did that, but Georgia was just better than us tonight."
All-Tournament selection Terrance Woodbury had 16 points, Billy Humphrey 12 and tournament MVP Sundiata Gaines 11 for Georgia, who beat Kentucky and Mississippi State on Saturday and then Sunday took down the Razorbacks – all in span of less than 29 hours.
"It's really gratifying," noted Georgia head coach Dennis Felton. "Regardless of how much adversity we went through and how much we had to go through as a team, the guys we had left had enough character to keep fighting for another day."
All-Tournament selection Darian Townes and Sonny Weems both had 17 points each, all-tournament selection Charles Thomas added 12 and Gary Ervin 9 to lead Arkansas (22-11), who had beaten No. 18 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Tennessee in its two earlier tournament games.
Patrick Beverley, the only other Razorback to score, had just 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting.
"Tip you hats off to them," Weems said. "They wanted the SEC Championship. We wanted it, too. Wer weren't worried about the NCAA Tournament or what was down the road. We just wanted the victory."
Ervin echoed those thoughts.
"I don't think we were worried about about the NCAA Tournament, not a second," Ervin said. "There's no excuses just to come out and say we were playing for that last game (Tennessee) and they were trying to get into the NCAA Tournament. We were trying to win a championship. That is what we were trying to do and we just fell short here this afternoon."
The ninth-seeded Razorbacks will play eight-seeded Indiana Friday in the NCAA East Regional in Raliegh, N.C., with No. 1 North Carolina the likely foe in a second round match-up.
"This (loss) is not the end of the world," Pelphrey said. "Nobody died tonight. We're always hopeful. We're at the University of Arkansas where great things can happen, are going to happen."
Georgia took a 53-39 lead when Jeremy Price slammed one home out of a TV timeout with 7:48 left in the game.
But the Razorbacks went on a 14-3 blitz in the next three minutes with Weems' driving lay-up cutting it to 56-53 with 4:19 left in the game.
However, Albert Jackson's slam and then Humphrey's 3-point bomb from the top of the key with 1:34 left boosted the Bulldogs back ahead 61-53.
"``SEC champions!'' Humphrey said. ``Never doubt us again.''
Arkansas, trying to win only its second tournament title in 17 years in the SEC, lost in the championship game for the second straight season - the first time the Razorbacks had made the title game in consecutive years and just the fourth time.
"This is not an easy game to put behind us," Ervin said. "We had a chance, an opportunity to win the championship and cut down the nets. You don't get that opportunity all the time.
"At the same time, we have to put this behind us because we are preparing for something else," Ervin continued. "Next time we step on the court and something like this happens, we're hanging our jerseys up, especially the six seniors. For our career we never put on that jersey on again so we've got to make the best of this opportunity."
Georgia came roaring out of the locker room and used emotion, solid defense and decent enough shooting to blitz to a 28-9 lead on Gaines' drive with 9:27 left in the opening half.
"I think it was all Georgia," Pelphrey said. "They really played well...They were spectacular tonight. I just think they really played well early on. I don't think we were dogging it. I think we were trying. We understood what was at stake."
The two teams then traded baskets before Weems came alive.
With his team down 30-11, Weems poured in 11 of his 13 points before halftime to jumpstart the Razorbacks.
His spree included two fast-break buckets, a 12-footer, an 8-foot turnaround jumper and the Razorbacks' only 3-pointer of the opening half.
He scored his team's last seven points of the half, including the aforementioned triple that cut Arkansas' deficit to 36-26 at the break.
Photos by Marc Henning
Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey reacts to his team cutting a 19-point deficit down to 3 with just over four minutes left in the game.
Gary Ervin shows his excitement at the same point.
Arkansas' Charles Thomas and Georgia's Dave Bliss battled for a rebound.
Darian Townes scores in traffic.
Patrick Beverley defends Georgia's Corey Butler.
Sonny Weems loses the ball in between Terrance Woodbury and Jeremy Price.
Sonny Weems, Jeremy Price and Patrick Beverley all look to the referee to see what the call is.
John Pelphrey reacts during his team's loss on Sunday.
Georgia 66, Arkansas 57
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