By Charles Odum
Saturday, December 16, 2006; 8:18 PM
DULUTH, Ga. -- Georgia's goal on Saturday, as voiced by coach Dennis Felton in his pregame speech, was to "wake folks up" about his team's potential. Consider Gonzaga painfully awake.
Levi Stukes scored 25 points and Sundiata Gaines added a season-high 21 to lift Georgia to a 96-83 victory over No. 16 Gonzaga.
Felton said his team seized the opportunity to "make a statement" against a ranked team on national TV.
"This was a terrific win," Felton said. "We went in wanting to take advantage of the situation because we had the opportunity to make a national statement."
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said his team was simply overwhelmed.
"There was no doubt today that Georgia had a stronger conviction to win the game," Few said. "They were hungrier. They were tougher, beating us to every 50-50 ball. You win games that way."
Georgia (7-1) forced Gonzaga (9-3) into a season-high 21 turnovers, four more than its previous high in a win over North Carolina on Nov. 22. Georgia, which turned the ball over only 11 times, outscored Gonzaga 30-11 in points off turnovers.
"Twenty-one turnovers. That's pathetic," Few said. "It's just guys trying to do too much."
Georgia had 11 days to prepare for its first game this season against a ranked opponent.
"This is the biggest win of my career," said Stukes, a senior. "Just fighting every day and going through the ups and downs with this team, this is the biggest win because we were playing against a team that was nationally known and everybody thought we didn't have a chance. We came out and showed the nation that Georgia is a team to watch out for."
Gonzaga, which played so well in the win over then-No. 2 North Carolina, had difficulty matching Georgia's emotion.
"The funny thing is this team plays better when we're the underdog," Gonzaga forward Sean Mallon said. "We need to approach every game the same way. We can play great or we can play awful."
Derek Raivio led Gonzaga with 19 points but saw his streak of 20-point games end at eight as he went 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Jeremy Pargo added 17 points, 12 in the first half, and Josh Heytvelt had 15 in the matchup of Bulldogs.
"Coach Few stresses every game we play, the NCAA tournament committee is going to look at it," Raivio said. "Georgia will be a Top 25 team eventually. ... They played like they wanted it more tonight."
Georgia averaged 91 points per game through its first seven games, and it didn't appear fazed by the step up in competition as it led 50-45 at halftime and then scored the first 11 points of the second half.
"Georgia is a good team," Few said. "They've got a lot of offensive firepower. They're athletic. They execute. They get good shots on the offensive end."
Added Few of Georgia: "They're an NCAA tournament team. We knew that coming in. We tried to prepare our guys for that."
Few was critical of the reluctance of Heytvelt, a 6-foot-11 forward, to establish an inside game. Heytvelt made three 3-pointers but spent too little time in the paint to satisfy Few.
"He has no conviction to get the ball inside," Few said of Heytvelt. "We're never going to get where we need to be if all he does is slide out to the 3-point line.
"We wanted to attack them inside. Josh took the easy road to shoot 3s."
Georgia had a 34-28 advantage in rebounds and outscored Gonzaga 52-36 in the paint.
Gonzaga's last lead was 35-34 with less than 6 minutes left in the first half.
Georgia, picked by media to finish last in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division, won its sixth straight game.
Mike Mercer scored 19 points and Takais Brown added 11 for Georgia.
Raivio, who had only seven points in the first half, hit two 3-pointers in a 17-6 run that cut Georgia's lead to 67-62.
In a matchup of freshman centers, Georgia's 6-10 Albert Jackson scored consecutive inside baskets over Gonzaga's 7-4 Will Foster, helping Georgia push the lead back to double figures at 80-69. Foster quickly returned to the Gonzaga bench.
Each team shot over 60 percent from the field in the first half. Gonzaga was 8-of-12 on 3s in the first half but still trailed 50-45 at halftime, thanks to 19 first-half points by the hot-shooting Stukes.
Georgia scored the first 11 points of the second half, including a basket by Brown, followed by a field goal by Mercer set up by his steal of an inbounds pass. The play gave Georgia a 61-45 lead, forcing Few to call a timeout.
Soon after the timeout, Gonzaga's first points of the second half came on an inside basket by Mallon, who had 11 points, at the 16:39 mark.
The game, played at the Gwinnett Center near Atlanta, was sponsored by Chick-fil-A.