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Feb. 22, 2004

Final Stats?|? Notes

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Georgia didn’t miss Kara Braxton in this one, rolling past South Carolina 73-50 Sunday and moving to 5-0 this season without their dismissed leading scorer.

The 18th-ranked Lady Bulldogs played for the first time since the 6-foot-6 Braxton was thrown off the team by coach Andy Landers for violating team rules. If Braxton’s absence was a problem, Georgia (18-7, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) never showed it against the last-place Gamecocks (10-15, 1-11).

Janese Hardrick hit a 3-pointer to start a 13-2 run that put the Lady Bulldogs up 21-10 – a large lead they never relinquished.

And while Georgia’s inside game took a hit, it’s neverending supply of good-shooting, quick guards filled in from the outside.

The rotation of Alexis Kendrick, Jessica Pierce, Sherill Baker and Hardrick combined for 27 of Georgia’s 38 points in the first half. All four of them finished in double figures: Pierce and Kendrick at 14, and Baker and Hardrick 10.

Christi Thomas, now the team’s tallest player at 6-5, had 14 points and 13 rebounds, her second double-double in four games.

Georgia’s defense never yielded either, forcing 12 first-half turnovers and limiting the Gamecocks to just two field goals by Iva Sliskovic in the final 9 minutes as they led 38-16 at the break. South Carolina finished with 23 turnovers and 2-of-12 shooting from behind the arc.

The Gamecocks cut a 24-point lead to 56-40 with under 8 minutes to go on Kelly Morrone’s second 3-pointer. But they could not get any closer.

Thomas showed in the second half she could handle things around the basket when she had to. She had six straight points in the middle of the period to cut off South Carolina’s rally.

Freshman Lauren Simms had 12 points to lead South Carolina, which had made the past two NCAA tournaments but has lost 14 of 16 since starting the season 8-1.

Whether Georgia can live without Braxton in the SEC and NCAA tournaments is another matter.

Braxton’s talent was never in question – earlier this season she went 11 of 11 from the field against Furman to supplant all-time Georgia great Katrina McClain from the record book – and she led the team with 13.7 points and eight rebounds a game.

Her commitment, however, was. She was suspended three times during the 2002-03 season, including for Georgia’s last eight games. Braxton was suspended again before the Ole Miss game on Feb. 15 – a Georgia victory.

Landers said Friday he could only extend Braxton so many chances and it was in everyone’s best interest for her and the team to move forward.