ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia's message to the Southeastern Conference was clear Saturday: Unlike last season, stopping the Bulldogs' two leading scorers does not guarantee a win.
Chris Daniels matched his career high with 21 points and Steve Thomas scored all of his 16 points in the second half as the two inside players led Georgia to an 82-69 home victory over Vanderbilt in its SEC opener.
Daniels and Thomas took advantage of Vanderbilt's defensive attention on Ezra Williams and Jarvis Hayes, who usually take the scoring lead for Georgia (12-2 overall, 1-0 SEC).
Williams made only 3 of 11 shots from the field while scoring 13 points and Hayes was only 4 of 13 from the field for nine points, but Georgia never trailed as it relied on a more balanced scoring attack.
"We've got more depth (than last season),'' said Georgia coach Jim Harrick.
"You've got to really get out on Ezra and Jarvis. This is not an indication of how they're going to play.''
Added Harrick: "I like to win when they don't have great games. This is a real good indication.''
Georgia will visit No. 6 Kentucky Wednesday night at 7 in a game to be televised by Fox Sports Net South. Kentucky was upset at Mississippi State Saturday. Georgia then returns for home games against Tennessee next Saturday and against Alabama on Jan. 16.
Georgia and Vanderbilt (10-4 overall, 0-1 SEC) were picked to finish fifth and sixth in the SEC East in most preseason polls, but the Bulldogs may be better than projected.
Chuck Moore led Vanderbilt with 19 points. Freshman David Przybyszewski, a 6-foot-11 center from Poland, added 18 points, including 4 for 8 shooting on 3-pointers.
Fred Gibson, one of the SEC's top freshmen as a receiver on the Georgia football team, made his basketball debut with five points, while adding an assist, a rebound and a steal — all in the final 2:39.
Daniels scored 13 points with three blocks and three steals in the first half. Daniels, Williams and Hayes combined for 31 of the team's 34 first-half points as Georgia led 34-27 at the break.
Thomas scored his first points on a three-point play at the 18:25 mark of the second half. Georgia kept passing the ball down low, and Thomas kept scoring on short jumpers, layups and offensive rebounds.
With 2:39 left to play and Georgia leading 72-59, fans in the Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 9,223 chanted "We want Fred'' and Harrick obliged, sending in the freshman who only joined practice on Monday.
It took Gibson only 38 seconds to draw a foul and sink two free throws.
Later, he stole a Vanderbilt pass and scored, though he held back on his thoughts of jamming the ball. The 6-foot-4 Gibson is still recovering from a bone bruise on his right knee, a souvenir from a hit he took while scoring a touchdown in the Dec. 28 Music City Bowl loss to Boston College.
Gibson's only complaint: "(The fans) were still talking about ‘Freddie,' but that's the fans.''
Added Gibson: "It felt great. Coming from football, it's a totally different thing. I was just trying to go out and have fun.''
Gibson calls basketball his first love but has made football his first priority at Georgia.
Another recent addition to the basketball team, freshman guard Mike Dean, delivered two assists and grabbed a rebound while playing 10 minutes.
Last season, Georgia could not win if Williams and D.A. Layne were contained. This year, Daniels and Thomas have had previous big games that prove they can do more than just rebound.
Daniels also scored 21 points in a win at South Alabama on Dec. 15. Thomas scored a career-high 24 points in Georgia's win over Georgia Tech on Dec. 9.
"This team is more balanced,'' said Daniels, a 6-foot-7 forward. "We don't have to depend on one person to score all our points. If Ezra or Jarvis don't have their shots falling, we can take it down low.''
Hundley 2-6 0-1 4, Freije 6-13 0-1 12, Thornton 1-2 1-2 3, Plavich 1-5 1-1 4, Moore 7-13 3-3 19, Holwerda 1-3 0-0 2, Coulibaly 0-0 0-0 0, Howard 3-6 0-0 7, Lakey 0-0 0-0 0, Przybyszewski 6-14 2-3 18, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-62 7-11 69.
Ja Hayes 4-13 1-2 9, Daniels 9-16 3-5 21, Thomas 7-8 2-2 16, Williams 3-11 5-8 13, Wright 1-3 5-6 7, Dean 0-0 0-0 0, Cole 1-3 7-8 9, Pevey 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick 0-1 0-0 0, Gibson 1-1 3-4 5, JoHayes 1-2 1-1 3. Totals 27-58 27-36 83.
Halftime-Georgia 34, Vanderbilt 27. 3-Point goals-Vanderbilt 8-32 (Przybyszewski 4-8, Moore 2-6, Howard 1-4, Plavich 1-5, Hundley 0-2, Holwerda 0-2). Georgia 2-17 (Williams 2-9, Patrick 0-1, Cole 0-2, JaHayes 0-5). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Vanderbilt 36 (Freije 5), Georgia 38 (Thomas, Williams 7). Assists-Vanderbilt 15 (Plavich, Holwerda, Lakey 3), Georgia 17 (Daniels, Wright 4). Total fouls-Vanderbilt 26, Georgia 17. Technical-Vanderbilt bench. A-9,223.