With 6-10, 245-pound Trey Thompkins attacking the Tigers inside and on the perimeter, Georgia took control of the contest midway through the first half and cruised to a 69-51 victory on Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
Thompkins hit 8-15 shots, including 3-5 treys and 3-3 free throws, as he led the Bulldogs with 22 points and 10 rebounds. UGA improved its record to 21-10 while the Tigers finished their first season under head coach Tony Barbee with an 11-20 mark.
"With them being able to rebound it gave them a lot of second chance points which hurt us in the first half and throughout the game," said Auburn sophomore guard Earnest Ross, who scored 30 points on Georgia in the regular season meeting in Athens but was limited to four points as he hit just 1-10 field goals.
"It was hard to compete with them on the glass and they did a good job against me defensively preventing me from scoring," said Ross, who was already looking ahead to the 2011-2012 season the locker room after the game.
"Georgia is a very good team, but next year we will be a lot better and we will be better equipped to compete in the SEC," he said. "We will be more experienced and with the incoming people we will be good next year. It is something to look forward to and I can't wait for it."
Freshman Josh Langford (right) battles UGA's Trey Thompkins for a loose ball.
Despite being a major underdog coming into the game, Ross said it hurt to lose to the Bulldogs and not play as well as the Tigers are capable of performing. "Coming into the game we had been playing well, but we just weren't able to carry that over to this game," Ross said.
Georgia coach Mark Fox said controlling Ross was a key to victory. "He's a great player and it probably wasn't a lot of fun for our players to watch him score 30 against us on the game film so today we had a much better approach," Fox said. "He's a very good player and we gave him a little special attention today because he whooped us the first time. And I thought today that Travis (Leslie) did a much better job."
With Ross not scoring and Kenny Gabriel limited to seven points, the only double figures scorer for the Tigers was freshman guard Chris Denson, who hit 9-10 field goals off the bench and scored 21 points in 22 minutes.
Barbee said that he was proud of the way Denson improved throughout the season. The coach noted that when Denson arrived on campus he was a long way from being ready to compete at the SEC level both physically and mentally.
It took Denson all of the way to the Arkansas game on January 25th to score his first 21 points as a college basketball player.
"I progressed a lot during the season," Denson said. "Coach Barbee gave me a little hard time at practice, but as I worked on my game and progressed defensive-wise I got more playing time."
"It's his best game in a long time," Fox said of Thompkins. "I think he had 25 against Kentucky, maybe, but he really played well. It's the best he has played in a long time. Whether or not it is his best game of the year, I don't know, but he did play very well. "
Auburn's coach was impressed with the team that eliminated his Tigers. "Their size, their strength and their bulk up front was a major concern," Barbee said. "We had to win the paint to win this game and we didn't. Hats off to Georgia because they dominated us in that area of the game."
Barbee said in his opinion Georgia has done enough to clinch an NCAA Tournament berth. The Bulldogs will play again at noon CST vs. Alabama in what some consider an elimination game for NCAA Tournament berth.
Auburn trailed 16-15 when the Bulldogs made an 18-4 run capped by a Thompkins two-handed slam at the 1:32 mark to build a 15-point edge. At halftime the Bulldogs led 34-23.
Georgia built its lead by dominating the rebounding stats in the first half with 24 rebounds compared to 14 for the Tigers. The Bulldogs also had a big advantage on free throws making 10-15 while the Tigers only shot a pair of in the first half as Denson made one of two.
Individually, Denson led the Tigers in scoring at the break with nine points while Josh Wallace and Kenny Gabriel each scored four points. Ross was 1-7 from the field at halftime for two points. As a team the Tigers hit 39.3 percent of their field goals in the first half and they were 0-7 on threes.
The Bulldogs, who shot 37.9 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, got 14 points and seven rebounds in the first half from Thompkins and 6-4 guard Leslie added nine points. The Bulldogs made 2-11 threes in the opening half.
Thompkins continued his strong offensive play as he hit a pair of threes early in the second to help Georgia build its lead to 45-27.
Auburn has shown the ability throughout the season to make strong runs after falling behind, but the Tigers weren't able to do that in the second half as Georgia improved its shooting and had just two turnovers in the final 20 minutes despite facing full-court pressure from the AU defense.
For the game Georgia out-rebounded the Tigers 39-27 and had just seven turnovers. The Tigers did a good job with the ball, too, turning it over just eight times.
The Bulldogs shot 41.2 percent from the field while Auburn made 38.8 percent of its shots in its season finale, slightly better than its season average of 37.5 percent coming into the game.
Auburn was 2-14 on treys while UGA hit 5-20. At the foul line Auburn was 11-16 while Georgia hit 22-31 free throws.
"I'm proud of the way my kids fought all year long," Barbee said. "What could have been a long and difficult year because of the wins and the losses can separate or divide a team, and this team has stayed together all season long and fight they did all the way to the end so I am proud of them for that."
Barbee pointed out that he challenged his team in the locker room to work hard in the offseason to prepare for his second year in charge at Auburn.
"We played against some men today and I had some boys out on the floor physically so we have got to make some serious gains in terms of the weight room," he said.