Georgia runs past South Carolina

ATHENS, Ga. - <b>Jarvis Hayes</b> is back, and he's bringing his Georgia teammates with him.

Jarvis Hayes scored 26 points to power No. 22 Georgia past South Carolina 79-66 Saturday, giving the Bulldogs three straight wins. Now fully recovered from his hip injury, Hayes has averaged 21.6 points in the winning streak.

"I've felt real confident because I'm getting my jump shot back,'' said Hayes, who led the SEC in scoring last season but struggled for about three weeks when slowed by the hip-flexor injury.

Thanks to Alabama's 76-71 win over Tennessee Saturday, Georgia has moved back into sole possession of third place in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

At 16-7 overall and 8-4 in the SEC, Georgia probably has a lock on its third straight NCAA tournament appearance - a first for the program - and also is assured of finishing at least .500 in the conference for a third straight season.

South Carolina (11-12 overall, 4-8 SEC) had a four-game winning streak end with the loss before a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 10,523. Coach Dave Odom's Gamecocks had a height advantage over Georgia at every position, but the Bulldogs still won the rebounding battle while also establishing an edge in quickness.

South Carolina could not keep pace when the Bulldogs picked up the tempo on offense and began feeding Hayes and Ezra Williams (16 points) before South Carolina could set its defense. Georgia broke open a close game with a 19-3 run in the final 4:20 of the first half, turning a 22-19 South Carolina lead into a 38-25 halftime advantage for the Bulldogs.

The run was capped when Steve Thomas stripped South Carolina center Tony Kitchings and Rashad Wright passed to Hayes for an alley-oop jam as the buzzer sounded to end the half. South Carolina's only points in the last four minutes of the half came on free throws.

"We were unable to stop the bleeding and were never able to get back into the competition,'' Odom said.

Georgia kept the lead in double figures through the second half and took a big lead of 20 points before Harrick began bringing backups off the bench. The 6-foot-10 Kitchings and 6-foot-9 Rolando Howell combined for only 17 points and nine rebounds, thanks to the strong defense of Thomas, Chris Daniels and Jonas Hayes.

Georgia, which played a similarly strong defensive game in its 74-69 win at Alabama Tuesday night, has held two of its last three opponents under 40-percent shooting from the field. Alabama managed to make 40.6 percent of its shots against Georgia, and the Bulldogs turned up the defense to hold South Carolina to 39.5 percent shooting.

"I thought when we got out on defense and rebounded and ran a little bit, it just got us going,'' Harrick said. "(South Carolina) will get you in a (slow) pace that's good for them but really not very good for us. When we can get out and run and push the ball, that helps a lot.''

Georgia claimed a 42-34 advantage in rebounds. The Bulldogs have claimed the rebounding edge in each of their three straight wins. Joining Jarvis Hayes and Williams in double figures for Georgia was Thomas, who scored eight of his 11 points in the first half. Thomas' early shots helped force the South Carolina to respect the Bulldogs' inside potential, and that opened up more shots for Hayes and Williams.

"We had not answer to Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams,'' Odom said. "Rashad Wright put the ball on our defenders real quick, and we were unable to stop them.''

Chris Warren led South Carolina with 15 points. Kitchings, with 11 points, was the Gamecocks' only other scorer in double figures. Daniels was held to six points, but he was solid with a game-high 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot on Kitchings.

Georgia plays at Mississippi Wednesday night at 8 ET before returning for key home games against division leaders Kentucky next Sunday at 4 p.m. and Florida two days later. South Carolina plays at Florida Tuesday night at 7.

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