- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Georgia is eager to get a couple of days off at the Southeastern Conference tournament.

With one more win, the Bulldogs will have their spot in the quarterfinals.

Kenny Gaines scored 14 points and Georgia overcame a sluggish start to keep its hold on third place in the SEC, routing Mississippi State 66-45 Wednesday night.

The top four SEC teams receive a bye through the first two rounds of the tourney, which will be held next week in Atlanta. Georgia leads Tennessee and Arkansas by a game and can clinch third place with a win Saturday at LSU, the regular-season finale.

“That’s very important,” Gaines said. “If you get to skip those first two days, you have more time to mentally rest and physically rest.”

Georgia (17-12, 11-6 SEC) still hopes to make a run at the NCAAs, though a middling RPI ranking likely means it would have to knock off LSU and at least beat either No. 1 Florida or No. 25 Kentucky in the SEC tournament.

Coach Mark Fox doesn’t want his team thinking too far ahead.

“This group has to stay in the moment,” he said. “They can’t handle much more than that.”

To drive that point home, Fox called a timeout with his team up by 19 points after Gaines got a little too flashy on a drive to the basket, passing up an easy shot to flip the ball back to Nemanja Djurisic for a layup.

“Now that we’ve had some success, we need to know how to handle success,” Fox said. “That was just a little reminder.”

Showboating aside, Gaines has led Georgia’s resurgence, averaging 18.3 points over the last six games while hitting more than 50 percent from 3-point range.

Earlier in the season, Fox felt the sophomore guard was trying too hard to replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia’s leading scorer from a year ago who now plays in the NBA.

“He felt like he needed to be Kentavious,” Fox said. “That’s not who he is. He needed to be Kenny.”

Georgia trailed 16-8 in the early going but took control before the first half was done, leading 37-24 at the break.

Last-place Mississippi State (13-17, 3-14) is closing out another dismal year under second-year coach Rick Ray, who went 10-22 in his debut season. His team shot just 34 percent (17 of 50) and had no one in double figures.

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