Feb. 22, 2003
By KEITH PARSONS
AP Sports Writer
ATHENS, Ga. – Like most shooters, Ezra Williams knew the end of his slump was only a couple of baskets away.
Williams scored eight of his 16 points during a game-turning run at the end of the first half and No. 22 Georgia beat South Carolina 79-66 on Saturday.
Jarvis Hayes had 26 points for the Bulldogs (16-7, 8-4 Southeastern Conference), who won their third straight and improved to 11-0 at home this season. Williams and Hayes did a lot of their damage outside, combining for five 3-pointers.
“We had no answer for them,” South Carolina center Tony Kitchings said. “We had two guys on Ezra one time, and he just pulled up and shot on both of them.”
In the previous five games, Williams made only 34 percent of his shots, and he hadn’t made at least half in nearly a month. But he was 6-of-10 Saturday, snapping out of his funk in time to help Georgia clinch a .500 record in the conference.
That has long been considered the benchmark for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It feels great to hit some shots, and get out of that little slump I was in,” Williams said. “It just shows the maturity we have on this team. We don’t get frustrated, we just wait for the shots to come.”
With Tennessee’s loss to Alabama on Saturday, Georgia moved into third place in the SEC East.
“I would think that we clinched an NCAA berth,” Hayes said. “We just want to finish the season strong, and make sure we get a good seed.”
Chris Warren scored 15 points and Kitchings added 11 for South Carolina (11-12, 4-8), which had won four in a row.
“They’re a Top 25 team by anybody’s standards,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said of the Bulldogs. “I think they’re probably a Top 10 team in this building.”
The Gamecocks, who fell to 1-9 away from home, took their last lead on a 3-pointer by Warren with 4:46 left in the first half. But they scored only three more points before the break, and the Bulldogs exploded behind Williams and Hayes.
First, Williams hit a jumper for his first points of the game, and Hayes had a three-point play, giving Georgia a 24-22 lead. Williams added two more baskets and two free throws during the spurt, which was capped by a powerful dunk by Hayes just before the buzzer.
With South Carolina holding for the last shot of the half, Kitchings lost the ball on a drive down the lane. Georgia’s Chris Daniels recovered it and fed point guard Rashad Wright, who led a 3-on-1 fast break.
Wright lofted a perfect lob to Hayes, who grabbed the ball and stuffed it with two hands to give the Bulldogs a 38-25 lead.
“I knew I had enough time, but I thought I was just going to be able to lay it in,” Hayes said. “But I had enough time to get up and dunk it.”
The Gamecocks got within 10 points once in the final 20 minutes, but Williams and Hayes took over again.
Hayes nailed a 3-pointer, followed by a jumper by Williams, and Hayes stretched the margin to 15 with a dunk on a backdoor pass from Daniels.
Consecutive 3s by Williams and Hayes gave the Bulldogs a 20-point lead, and they cruised from there.
“We never felt we had a comfortable lead until that point,” Hayes said. “South Carolina is a pesky team. We knew at any point, they’re capable of a run.”
Daniels, the only player in the conference ranked in the top 10 in rebounds, assists and steals, finished with six points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals.