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Bulldogs cruise past Auburn in SEC tourney opener
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ATLANTA - Mark Fox hopes his Georgia team is ready to play its best at the most important time of the season.

A healthy Trey Thompkins is a big reason for the coach's positive postseason outlook.

Thompkins, finally moving past a series of nagging injuries, scored 22 points to lead Georgia past Auburn 69-51 on Thursday in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Thompkins, a 6-foot-10 junior, is ranked among the SEC leaders with his averages of 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds despite battling ankle, shin and toe injuries. He said Wednesday he is finally at full speed for the postseason. He had 10 rebounds to help support his claim.

"I feel like I'm myself again," Thompkins said after the game.

Said Fox: "It's his best game in a long time."

Fox said Thompkins began gaining momentum for the postseason in practice this week.

"I felt like on Monday he was moving around pretty good, but I really felt Tuesday was probably the first time in practice I thought, 'Wow, he's looking healthy.' And I felt like he had a chance to play well. I think he has some confidence because he felt better."

Georgia (21-10), considered by some to be on the NCAA tournament bubble, has a chance to again bolster its NCAA hopes when it faces Alabama, the Western Division's No. 1 seed, in Friday's SEC quarterfinals.

Fox, noting Georgia made only 41.2 percent of its shots from the field, said his team hasn't peaked.

"One thing that we have had, certainly with Trey's health, we have never probably had a game where everybody was on fire," Fox said.

"Have we had our best performance? I don't know. I do think that there's more good plays in this group, and hopefully they will happen at the same time."

Auburn coach Tony Barbee said "there's no question" Georgia belongs in the NCAA field, thanks in part to its deep front line.

"I don't know of another team, maybe in our league or across the country, that can match up with them physically, across the front line," Barbee said. "It seems like they go to the bench and there's another 6-foot-9 guy that's about 260 (pounds) that they bring off the bench. But they're not just big, they're skilled. ... They're all men out there."

Added Barbee: "We had boys on the floor."

Chris Denson, a freshman from Columbus, led Auburn (11-20) with a career-high 21 points. He was Auburn's only scorer in double figures.

Auburn couldn't sustain a comeback in the second half.

"We couldn't get stops and rebounds," said Kenny Gabriel, who averaged 20 points and nine rebounds in Auburn's two wins last week but had only seven points and three rebounds against Georgia.

One of Georgia's big forwards, Jeremy Price, had 22 points and 14 rebounds in the Bulldogs' 81-72 overtime win over Auburn on Feb. 5. Price had eight points and six rebounds in only 22 minutes on Thursday.

Backup forward Chris Barnes added eight points.

Travis Leslie had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Gerald Robinson added 11 points for Georgia, which took a 39-27 advantage in rebounds and a 19-7 edge in second-chance points.

Auburn closed its regular season with back-to-back comeback wins over Mississippi and LSU, overcoming double-digit deficits in each game.

The Tigers were in their familiar comeback mode from the opening minutes against Georgia, which scored the first five points and never trailed.

Thompkins scored Georgia's final seven points of the first half as the Bulldogs took a big lead of 15 points at 34-19 before settling for a 34-23 advantage at the break.

Thompkins had two 3-pointers in the first 4 minutes of the second half to help Georgia pad its lead.

"(Fox) explained they're a comeback team and they weren't going to give up," Thompkins said.

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