CHICAGO — When Georgia was struggling through a span of more than 12 minutes without a field goal Sunday, Fred Gibson watched from the bench. Gibson has emerged as an offensive spark for Georgia this season, scoring in double figures four times despite never playing more than 22 minutes.
After Gibson averaged 11.6 minutes per game in the regular season, however, he played only four minutes in Friday's NCAA first-round win over Murray State and appeared for only two minutes Sunday.
Instead, Coach Jim Harrick gave another freshman, guard Mike Dean, a more prominent role in each game.
"I just thought I like Mike Dean taking the ball to the basket; I live his ability to drive,'' Harrick said. "I need to give him a little more playing time so he will be comfortable at point guard.''
Gibson, better known as a rising star on the Georgia football team, will have a week to enjoy spring break before joining the second half of spring football practice. There, he can be certain he won't have to worry about a lack of playing time.
Happy birthday: A positive story for Georgia in the NCAA tournament was the continued emergence of point guard Rashad Wright as a scoring threat.
After setting a career high with 17 points in the Bulldogs' Southeastern Conference tournament loss to Louisiana State, Wright followed with 16 points in the NCAA tournament win over Murray State. Then, on his 20th birthday Sunday, Wright added 16 points with five assists and one turnover against Southern Illinois.
Wright survived a scare when he banged knees with Southern Illinois guard Kent Williams on a drive to the basket with 10:48 left to play. Wright limped off the court but quickly returned at the 9:29 mark. He played 37 minutes.
Thomas returns to form: Steve Thomas was almost invisible in the win over Murray State as the starting forward was still obviously affected by the flu-like symptoms he encountered on Thursday. He managed only one point and two rebounds in the NCAA opener.
On Sunday, however, Thomas was a factor inside, leading Georgia with 12 rebounds — matching his career high — while adding six points with a blocked shot and a steal.
With Thomas leading the way, Georgia outrebounded Southern Illinois 45-27. It was only the third time Georgia has lost when it outrebounded its opponent.
More numbers: Georgia also could not blame its loss on its performance from the free-throw line. Making 24 of 31 free throws, Georgia set a school record for accuracy — 77.4 percent — from the line. ... Jarvis Hayes' 57 points in the two NCAA tournament games — 31 against Murray State and 26 against Southern Illinois — are the most he has scored in back-to-back games for Georgia. He also averaged 8.0 rebounds per game.
Home crowd advantage: Two teams from Illinois advanced to the Sweet 16 from Chicago. Illinois defeated Creighton earlier in the day, prompting questions about the possible unfair advantage of the two teams having the home crowd in the Chicago pod.
"(Coaches) fought for years to get away from exactly what happened today,'' Harrick said. "Illinois, that was a home game for them. Then the 11 seed (Southern Illinois) gets a game in its home state. My thinking is I hope it's not the money that drives the pod, but it appears that it is.''
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