ATHENS, Ga.-- Vanderbilt men's team came to Stegeman Coliseum Saturday afternoon for its SEC opener riding a 10-3 record, hoping to get off on the right foot in conference play. Instead, the Commodores were frustrated by a surprisingly quick and athletic Georgia team-- Jim Harrick's Bulldogs led the entire way and overran Vanderbilt, 82-69.
As has been the case in Vandy's previous three losses, it was cold outside shooting combined with an inability to defend the interior that did in the Commodores. Starting center Brian Thornton picked up his fourth foul just into the second half, and it turned out to be a major turning point. Georgia's big men, Chris Daniels and Steve Thomas, dominated the paint from that point on.
"Yes, that certainly put us in a tough spot," said Coach Kevin Stallings of Thornton's fourth foul. "Brian wasn't having one of his better days. After that, your rotation starts suffering. Brian just made some careless fouls. He didn't get himself in the proper position defensively."
Thornton wasn't the only Commodore to get into foul trouble. The refs whistled 26 fouls on the Commodores (to only 17 for Georgia), and four Commodores wound up with four fouls each. But the defining statistic of this game was undoubtedly free throws. On its home court, Georgia went to the free-throw line 36 times and converted 27, while Vanderbilt was a mere 7-of-11.
Georgia had lost its three best players from last year's team, but doesn't appear to have missed a beat. Daniels and Thomas appear to have more than made up for UGA's missing twin tanks, Anthony Evans and Shon Coleman. Thomas, a 6-8, 235-pounder, scored all 16 of his points in the second half, while the 6-7, very athletic Daniels added 21 (8 in the second half). Georgia's leading scorer coming into the game, Ezra Williams, scored 13.
For Vanderbilt the loss extended a 9-game regular-season SEC losing streak, and a 10-game SEC losing streak that includes last year's tournament loss to Alabama. The Commodores fell to 10-4 overall, 0-1 in the SEC, while Georgia, with some impressive wins in November and December, advanced to 12-2, 1-0.
Senior guard Chuck Moore led Vanderbilt in scoring with 19, while freshman center David Przybyszewski had his best offensive game since the Hampton game with 18 points, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range. Matt Freije was the only other Commodore in double figures with 12 points; he also led the team in rebounds with 5.
Georgia jumped out to a 20-11 lead midway through the first half, but the Commodores fought back to within 20-18 after a banked-in 3 by Plavich, a strong power move by Brian Thornton, and a layup by Freije. David Przybyszewski hit two impressive 3-point shots from the top of the key in the first half to jumpstart the sluggish Commodore offense.
Chuck Moore's layup on a fast break cut the Dawgs' lead to 27-25 with 2:39 left in the first half, but Georgia ended the half with a 7-2 spurt for a 34-27 lead at the break. The Commodores outshot Georgia in the first half 52% to 41%-- but Vanderbilt committed 11 turnovers in the first half and was outshot from the free throw line 9-2.
After Thornton quickly got into foul trouble in the second half, the Bulldogs pushed the lead out to 56-39 with 11 minutes left. From that point the Commodores were able to get no closer than 10 points, and the game was never in serious doubt after that.
Asked if there was anything the team could build on from the disappointing loss, Stallings replied "Przybyszewski, our freshman, had a nice game. If we can get that kind of offensive output from him, or close to it, I think that will be a big plus from our team."
Despite the loss, Stallings was moderately pleased with his team's defensive effort on the perimeter. "I thought we did a good job taking away their 3-point shot-- we just didn't do a very good job on their post players," said Stallings. "We've got to figure out a better way to cover up the outside like we did today, and still cover up the inside."
Point guard Russell Lakey returned to action after sitting out the last three games. Playing with a protective boot on his right foot, Lakey played 10 minutes and had three assists, but did not score.
The Commodores' next opponent is No. 18 Alabama in Tuscaloosa at 7:00 p.m. Next Saturday, Vanderbilt plays its first home conference game, when it hosts No. 3 Florida in Nashville