Final: Georgia 77-70
There you go.
57.9 seconds left, Georgia leads 75-64
If somehow Kentucky comes back and wins I'll change this, but at this writing it appears Georgia is going to win this game. And what a big win it will be.
It's not a fluke, it's not last-second shot, or anything like that. Georgia has simply been the better team today.
Don't pencil the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament quite yet, or crown them SEC East favorites. It's just the first league game. But it's a huge win for the team, perhaps even the program, and puts the Bulldogs on the course they need to be.
They should now be in the conversation with the rest of their powerful division.
3:14 left, Georgia leads 62-59
We're headed for a close finish here, which should be good news for a Georgia team that's played in almost nothing but close ones this season.
The even better news for UGA is that it has the lead entering the timeout, Gerald Robinson will be at the line and two of Kentucky's starters have four fouls. (That would be Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins.)
Free throws have been in Georgia's favor so far, as it's 18-for-21 and Kentucky is 9-for-15. The rebounding has also been above-average for the Bulldogs, particularly on the defensive end. And the Bulldogs did a good job of recovering after Kentucky's run.
But if the Bulldogs don't keep that up, and don't hold on in the final 3:14 here, they'll be thinking about this one for a long, long time. This one should be theirs to win.
7:53 left, Georgia leads 58-56
Briefly, Kentucky had its first lead, but Georgia got it back. Now we're in a timeout, and wondering if momentum has swung back in Georgia's favor, after a long Kentucky run.
Kentucky's Terrence Jones - who put Kentucky ahead with a three-point play - is back on the bench after picking up his fourth foul. It was a fortuitous fourth foul for Georgia: The officials, after catching heat from the crowd for an offensive foul against Georgia, let play continue after Kentucky's Doron Lamb was hammered attacking the basket. After the ensuing rebound, Jones was whistled.
And after a timeout, Dustin Ware drained a 3 to put Georgia back up.
Sequences like that are the kind of thing that don't happen for a road team. At Rupp, for instance, I'd bet Lamb would've been at the line. That's why home court matters, clearly.
13:21 left, Georgia leads 47-45
The Bulldogs weren't as crisp to start the second half, but it still took a few minutes for it to catch up to them.
Mark Fox just used a timeout after Kentucky got a layup to cut the lead down to two, the closest it's been since there was 7:02 left in the first half.
It's mostly been missed shots and poor defense for Georgia during the run, but it also had some careless turnovers throughout the half.
Georgia leads 41-30 at halftime
You can't help but be impressed.
Georgia takes a double-digit lead into halftime, and has looked every bit the team that hoped to take the next step this year. Now it needs to finish that way.
If the Bulldogs can hold on, this is their coming-out party, at least around the SEC and nationally. Kentucky may not be as stacked and as hyped as last year, but it's still ranked No. 10 and the favorite in the East.
Obviously, if Georgia continues its play into the second half - spreading the scoring around, playing solid defense, rebounding well - it will hold on. But the Bulldogs haven't played a complete 40 minutes in many games this year, so we'll have to see.
Kentucky has looked pretty sloppy at times, missing free throws and a few chippies around the basket. Terrence Jones, its second-leading scorer, also missed a good chunk of the half with foul trouble.
But make no mistake, this was Georgia's half, thanks to a team effort. Trey Thompkins had 14 points, Jeremy Price had five rebounds and Dustin Ware had four assists. Travis Leslie (eight points) and Gerald Robinson (nine points) also did their part, Marcus Thornton came off the bench to hit a well-timed 3, and Chris Barnes had some good minutes down low.
7:52 left in first half, Georgia leads 28-24
The Bulldogs have still never trailed, a fact that stands to change at some point, but every time Kentucky seems on the verge of a run, it gets stemmed.
It was 23-22 when Leslie, posting up near the lane, passed out to Ware, who drained a 3. Another basket extended the lead to six.
Still, Mark Fox isn't happy about, shedding his suit jacket after Kentucky's Doron Lamb was able to get an easy basket on a pass into an open lane. Fox doesn't show much outward anger with his team, which I find to be a pretty desirable trait in a basketball coach. He doesn't yell like a maniac, like a few coaches I've covered, but has other ways to get his point across.
11:23 left in first half, Georgia leads 18-15
Georgia has led the whole way so far, though it's been close and still is. But you have to like what you've seen so far from the Bulldogs, both in demeanor and production.
The Bulldogs seem to have a strong focus today, and aren't relying on the emotion of the game or the crowd. Travis Leslie just made a layup off a beautiful cut and pass from Jeremy Price near the top of the key. The Bulldogs' defense has been pretty solid, and the passing has been crisp. Not a slew of bad shots either.
As for Kentucky, John Calipari doesn't appear too happy with his team's play, particularly on the offensive end.
It's a pretty good atmosphere here, with loud cheers when either team score. As a Kentucky writer friend of mine pointed out, Stegeman can be a pretty good environment when it's packed. Too often, as we know, it's not close to that.
Mark Richt and a number of his assistants - Mike Bobo, Stacey Searels, Bryan McClendon, John Lilly and Rodney Garner - are taking the game in with recruits. They're sitting a bit to my left, so if for no reason I see all the coaches stand up and start celebrating, I'll try to find out which junior has told them he's coming back.
3:55 p.m.: Minutes until tip-off
I can honestly say this is the biggest crowd I've ever seen at Stegeman. Of course, I've only been the UGA beat writer for one season, and my previous trips here were to cover South Carolina-Georgia games. Still ...
While there's a substantial Kentucky presence, there's way more red and black in the arena. We may get a better feel when the game begins, but my estimate right now is a 75 percent pro-Bulldog crowd.
3:00 p.m.: Setting the scene.
It's a sellout here at Stegeman Coliseum. But that doesn't mean it'll be a massive home-court advantage for the Bulldogs.
There were a lot of blue-clad fans around Athens on Saturday afternoon, so I'd expect, as always, for Kentucky to have a healthy fan presence inside the arena.
And take the media representation as another example: Most of the heavy-hitters in the Kentucky media are here in Athens for the basketball game, rather than in Birmingham for the football team's bowl game. (Where, by the way, the Wildcats are not exactly doing the SEC proud.)
Meanwhile, you could argue that more Georgia fans are excited about football recruiting than they are this game. Not sure if that's absolutely true, but I do know that as I was leaving lunch, as I shouted "see you at the game" to my companions, a person passing by said, "What game?"
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Final: Georgia 77-70