BLOWOUT: Dawgs crush South Carolina 80-56

ATHENS – Georgia returned to its more rightful level of competition Wednesday and, not coincidentally, to the win column as well.

The Bulldogs snapped a four-game losing streak by beating South Carolina 80-56 in front of 7,815 fans in Stegeman Coliseum. During its skid, Georgia played its state rival, the only undefeated team left in major college basketball and two teams ranked in the top live nationally.

On Wednesday, it played the Gamecocks. South Carolina, 10-4 overall and 0-1 in the SEC after its loss, came into Athens last in the league in scoring, shooting, assists and steals and next-to-last in rebounding margin.

Georgia's success rate responded predictably. Suddenly, point guard Sundiata Gaines' gimpy right ankle felt better, shots started falling and the smiles returned in the Bulldogs locker room.

"It feels good. It feels tremendous," Gaines said. "Guys came out and played well. We defended. I think it paid off from that four-game stretch of playing tough competition. We really needed this win."

The Bulldogs established their largest margin of victory in the SEC under Coach Dennis Felton and largest under any coach since beating LSU by 26 on Jan. 5, 2003 under Jim Harrick.

"I felt like the kind of competition that we had played should make us better, but I was concerned that our team could let it affect their confidence," Felton said. "I'm happy and excited that we were able to win as easily as we were tonight because hopefully for our players that can put some validation about what our staff has been trying to tell them about where they're at."

Georgia, which plays Vanderbilt at home at 4 p.m. Saturday, improved to 8-5 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. Felton gave the Bulldogs a pep talk Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm relieved we were able to win tonight," he said. "In terms of the competition, I really did my best to get our team to understand that what has happened in these last four games is nothing to be ashamed of and shouldn't be something that chips away at their confidence. Actually, I think it should contribute to our confidence."

Sophomore guard Mike Mercer led the Bulldogs with 17 points, matching his total output from the last two games.

"It was definitely a function of getting better shots," Mercer said. "I was in a slump, and I was trying to shoot myself out of the slump. Today, I was trying to get in the paint more often, and it really paid off."

Junior forward Takais Brown added 15, and Gaines had 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting and a team-high eight rebounds.

Georgia made 10 3-pointers, its most since the Dec. 19 Jacksonville game, which until Wednesday also was its last victory.

"I was disappointed defensively that we didn't play better," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "There's no question about that, but this is a much better Georgia offensive team than it's been in the past."

Georgia shot 47.5 percent from the field, its highest percentage since the Jacksonville game, and the Bulldogs had a double-digit lead throughout the second half, when they led by as many as 29.

"With four minutes left in the game, coach said we're going to have to play them somewhere down the line in the SEC Tournament or something, so we wanted to make a statement," Mercer said. "We just wanted to close the deal."

Georgia had just 10 turnovers and outrebounded the Gamecocks 43-32.

South Carolina, which shot 35.1 percent, was led by Dwayne Day's 14 points.

"It's worrisome," Odom said. "These kind of things, you can fix them, but you need bodies to do it, and we're down right now."

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