Albert Jackson and Trey Thompkins returned from ankle injuries to combine for 22 points, and the Bulldogs beat Santa Clara 54-48 on Monday night in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Georgia (4-1) had 11 steals and nine blocked shots while holding Santa Clara to 37.8 percent (17 of 45) shooting from the field.
"Defense is what is winning ballgames for us right now, and we went into the season with that goal in mind, developing into a great defensive team and relying on that," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said.
Santa Clara (1-3) committed 25 turnovers, leading to 22 points for Georgia.
Terrance Woodbury led Georgia with 14 points and three steals. Jackson had 12 points, a steal and a block and Thompkins, a freshman, added 10 points in his debut after missing the Bulldogs’ first four games with an ankle injury.
Jackson also suffered an ankle injury in the preseason, and the injury kept him out of Friday’s win over Presbyterian.
"It was still a little sore today; it was a game-time decision to play," Jackson said.
Jackson played 25 minutes in his key matchup against Santa Clara’s 6-foot-11
senior center John Bryant.
"I was grateful to have Albert back," Felton said. "It was very important to have him back against their guy (Bryant)."
Bryant scored 12 points, eight below his average, and had 13 rebounds. Bryant was held to eight shots while guarded by Jackson and forward Chris Barnes most of the game.
"Albert just did a great job on both ends," Felton said. "He and Chris did a tremendous job making Bryant work so hard for every touch. That was the plan. We didn’t want him touching the ball at all."
Bryant averaged 18 points and led the West Coast Conference with 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last season.
Bryant had back-to-back baskets in the Broncos’ 9-0 run for a 31-29 lead about four minutes into the second half. He didn’t have another field goal.
"I’m disappointed that we lost but I know we’re getting better," Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. "This is a very young team, so we knew we were going to have a few growing pains throughout the year. It isn’t all going to come together at once."
Georgia also is a young team, especially with the addition of Thompkins to Felton’s rotation.
At times Georgia had three freshmen on the floor: Thompkins and guards Dustin Ware and Travis Leslie.
"We’re certainly relying on some young guys," Felton said. "They’re being thrown into the fire. They’re going to make some mistakes. It’s going to be a little bit of a growing process for them."
Woodbury is Georgia’s only senior. Jackson is a junior.
Jackson said he doesn’t mind being surrounded by so many young players, especially with Thompkins joining a rotation on the front line that also includes Barnes and Jeremy Price.
"I think Trey played an amazing game, especially for his first game," Jackson said. "We have an amazing front line. I think once we all get in top form we’ll have one of the top front lines in the nation."
The 6-foot-9 Thompkins, the most celebrated freshman in Felton’s 2008 class, showed his shooting skills as he made a 3-pointer and made 5 of 6 free throws.
"Trey certainly puts another scorer on the floor for us," Felton said. "On the free-throw line he was huge. ... He will just get better and better with experience."