Thomas had 19 points and 12 rebounds in 27 foul-plagued minutes to lead Georgia to an 85-71 victory Monday night over TCU in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The third-seeded Bulldogs (24-9) advanced to the round of 16 for the 14th time in 21 NCAA tournament appearances. Georgia will face Villanova or Purdue in the West Regional in Seattle.
TCU (25-7) was denied a shot at setting a school record for wins in a season and lost in the second round for the fourth straight year. Sandora Irvin led the sixth-seeded Lady Frogs with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Tiffany Evans had 22 points.
The Lady Frogs sliced a 21-point deficit to eight when Thomas fouled out late in the second half. It took some sharp shooting late and pressure defense by her teammates to bail out the Bulldogs.
Jessica Pierce added 18 points, and Janese Hardrick and Sherill Baker scored 14 points apiece for Georgia.
“We’re playing defense the way we want to play defense and, for the most part, we’re being effective with it,” said Georgia coach Andy Landers. “I’m reasonably pleased with the way we’re playing both inside and out.”
Landers has 21 tournament appearances, the most by a coach without a national title.
TCU’s three previous second-round exits came on the home courts of Louisiana Tech, Duke and Connecticut. It was the end of an emotional week for the Lady Frogs after coach Jeff Mittie was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving.
TCU had hoped the neutral site would help. Instead, it’s left wondering what it will take to get over the hump and into the regionals.
“You knock on the door and you need to knock it in and get there,” Mittie said. “I think we’re closer, but it is those little plays that we’re not making right now.”
The 6-foot-5 Thomas controlled the lane with a three-inch difference on the tallest Lady Frog. She scored 10 early in the second half to help Georgia build a 19-point lead, though her aggressiveness inside caused an early exit.
Instead of dominating the rest of the game and helping the Bulldogs cruise to any easy win, Thomas picked up four quick fouls in the second half and fouled out with 9:26 left, changing the tempo for TCU.
“We knew at some point they were going to make a run at us and it just so happened that the time they made the run was the time I went out,” Thomas said. “It was the longest 9 minutes of my life. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, I was grabbing shirts and everything. This team always ends up on top.”
With Thomas out, the Lady Frogs went on a 10-0 run, getting a basket and two free throws from Niki Newton and consecutive 3-pointers from Evans. Instead of slowing down the offense, the Bulldogs ran and forced the ball inside, taking some poor shots and committing a couple of turnovers.
“About five times in a row we were hurried, rushed and weren’t really good offensively,” Landers said. “Other than those possessions, I was pretty pleased with our offense.”
Still, the Bulldogs shot 47 percent and controlled the pace with an attacking, fast-breaking offense that led to 50 points in the paint. Georgia forced 15 turnovers and pushed Irvin, the niece of former NFL star Michael Irvin, out of her comfort zone inside and to the perimeter.
Irvin shot 7-for-14, but the Lady Frogs were never able to have a consistent presence in the lane.
TCU got as close as 77-68 after an Irvin 3-pointer with 2:18 remaining, but Georgia scored five straight points to seal the win and give the Lady Frogs another subregional loss.