The University of Georgia Men’s Basketball team knocked off the Kentucky Wildcats 75-68 on Saturday afternoon in Stegeman Coliseum. After defeating the Wildcats in Athens two seasons ago, the win marks the first instance of back-to-back home victories over Kentucky for the Dawgs since the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons.
As he’s become accustomed to doing against the Cats, Kario Oquendo put forth a terrific performance in the victory, leading all scorers with 21 points and converting on 10 of his 12 free throw attempts. Justin Hill added a critical contribution of 15 points and 6 assists while only committing 1 turnover. Although not abundantly evidenced through the box score, Braelen Bridges had perhaps the most significant impact of any Georgia player as he effectively flipped the narrative from the last matchup between the two teams. Following Oscar Tshiebwe’s monstrous 37-point, 24-rebound outing in Lexington, the center position, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, was a major point of emphasis for the Dawgs heading into the contest. In a postgame press conference, coach Mike White said he thought that “the biggest factor in the game” was that “Braelen Bridges played as hard as he has all year. He was really good, I’m really proud of him. He’s had bigger scoring and rebounding numbers in other games, but you look down and see that he was +22 today, that tells you he made a lot of winning plays.” Bridges finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, but 10 of his points were dropped in during a 13-point Georgia scoring stretch over a crucial 6-minute span in the second half that brought the Dawgs from a 4-point deficit to a 3-point advantage with 4 minutes to play.
While he failed to match the legendary performance posted in his meeting with the Bulldogs earlier this season, Tshiebwe still went for 20 points and 14 rebounds, tying Antonio Reeves for the most Kentucky points. Reeves really kept the Wildcats alive in the first half as he put up 15 of his team’s 32 points while knocking down 3 3-Pointers. Following an impressive 17-point performance against Georgia in Rupp Arena, freshman guard Cason Wallace was held scoreless in Athens until under a minute remained when the victory was in hand for Georgia.
The first half was defined by strong defensive intensity for the Dawgs as they owned the paint in a total role reversal of how the afternoon had been predicted. Georgia outscored Kentucky 18-8 in paint points while outrebounding the Wildcats 21-19 and holding Tshiebwe to only 1 made field goal. Oquendo scored 17 of his eventual 21 points in the first, electrifying the Stegeman crowd on multiple occasions with powerful tomahawk dunks. The Bulldogs turned the ball over only twice and knocked down all 12 of their free throw attempts as they showed great poise in doing the little things well. The Wildcats were held to just 35.5% field goal shooting as they failed to find any help for the hot shooting of Reeves before they entered the locker room at half time down by 10 at a score of 42-32 in favor of Georgia.
After an unexpected double-digit halftime deficit, Kentucky responded in the second half with a 20-6 scoring run over the first 8 minutes of play as Tshiebwe began to find an offensive rhythm while Reeves continued his effective outside shooting. As momentum palpably shifted in Kentucky’s direction, Bridges answered the call during his team’s time of scoring need in allowing the Dawgs to run their offense through him down low. Trailing 52-48 around the 10-minute mark, the big man took the game over for a stretch in which he scored over Tshiebwe in 3 instances and made a beautiful skip pass to Jabri Abdur-Rahim for an open corner 3-Pointer which put the Dawgs up by 6 with under 3 minutes on the clock. Following the bucket, Georgia forced a turnover that resulted in a fastbreak layup for Terry Roberts in his first game back after missing time with a concussion. In attempt to cut into the lead, the Wildcats looked to the ice-cold Cason Wallace to hoist up 3-Pointers but his luck did not improve as he continued to struggle and failed to bring his team back. The Dawgs sank 9 of their 10 free throw opportunities over the last 1:10 of action as they calmly put Kentucky away from the foul line to hang on for the 7-point victory.
The win on an afternoon in which the program honored its 1983 Final Four team 40 years later brings the Dawgs to 5-7 in SEC play and 15-10 overall. Georgia now looks to build on the victory on Tuesday night when they host last placed LSU who holds just a 1-10 conference record at 8:30 PM.