This year when the Kentucky Wildcats traveled to Athens, almost everything seemed a bit different. For obvious Covid reasons, there were limited fans, including limited supporters of “Big Blue Nation” that normally travel the whole country in numbers to see their Wildcats play. Kentucky also isn’t at the top of the SEC standings like they normally are, entering Wednesday night’s contest at 4-8 on the season.
The biggest change to this season though was that Georgia came out as the victorious team when facing Kentucky. The Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats for the first time since March of 2013, by a score of 63-62. Georgia had previously lost its last 14 matchups against Kentucky, but that changed on a layup from P.J. Horne with one second remaining, securing the win for the Bulldogs.
With 3.6 seconds left and Georgia trailing by one with possession of the ball, there were three timeouts called in tot al for both teams to ensure they could get the look they wanted, both offensively and defensively. Georgia ran a stack inbounds play, where Justin Kier set a screen for Horne to get open under the basket, and when Sahvir Wheeler passed the ball in, Horne did not miss his opportunity to shine.
“That’s who we wanted to hit,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean. “We went with our seniors to put themselves in position to execute the action… I’m very proud of the way that they responded inside of the timeout and executed it.”
Georgia’s veteran experience was on display, with both Horne and fellow graduate transfer Andrew Garcia making their presence felt. Garcia finished the game as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, totaling 16 points and six rebounds – all of which were offensive rebounds. There was some worries about how Georgia would guard Kentucky’s bigger players, including 7-footer Olivier Sarr, but Garcia more than held his own.
“I’m relentless,” said Garcia. “So, anyway I can, I just try to fight down there. Shoutout to my coaches for just helping us prepare, because taking that post away helped us a lot.”
Georgia played one of its better games defensively this season as well. Crean noted after the game he thought the turnover margin and 3-point defense were the keys to Georgia winning this game. Turnovers have often haunted the Bulldogs this season, but Wednesday night, the script was flipped as the Bulldogs scored 25 points off of 17 Wildcat turnovers. The Bulldogs also forced the Wildcats to shoot 8% (1-of-13) from behind the arc.
Although this year’s Kentucky squad does not have the same record that most have had in season’s past, the talent on its roster this season is still there. They are still well respected by everyone in the SEC and have one of the greatest coaches of all time, as both Crean and Wheeler said before the game.
Fans inside of Stegeman seemed to notice and were the loudest they’ve been all season. When Horne’s layup went through the net, it was easily the highlight moment inside Stegeman Coliseum so far this season. From a noise perspective, it was easy to forget the arena was only 17% full for a moment.
“Not everyone can get here right now, so we’ve just got to continue to get people to make up for that, and I thought [the fans] did a great job of that,” said Crean.
After starting SEC play 0-4, Georgia has found some momentum after coming back from down six points with two minutes remaining to win its second-straight game. The Bulldogs lack size and a true number-one scoring option, but that has been apparent all year, even in winning games. If Georgia can continue to bring the defensive energy and resilience they showed tonight, the Bulldogs are going to be a formidable opponent for anyone in the conference going forward.
Kentucky freshman forward Brandon Boston Jr. had a game-high 18 points. Boston is a Norcross, GA. native and was the 5th ranked recruit coming out of high school last year, according to 247sports.
Georgia 9-4 (2-4) will now have to try to get on another “1-game win streak,” as the red-hot Florida Gators come to Athens on Saturday following their dismantling of Tennessee on Tuesday night. Tipoff is at 2:00 p.m. Kentucky now falls to 4-9 (3-3) and will play LSU in Lexington on Saturday.