ATHENS – Kentucky pulled into Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday night with its lineup of future NBA lottery picks, its No. 1 national ranking and an usual assortment of blue-clad traveling fans.
Georgia, struggling near the bottom of the SEC standings, would be the latest team to experience the event that is Kentucky basketball. For a time, it turned the event into an actual game, as a sellout crowd – mostly pro-Bulldog – reveled in it.
But the offense died out, and any hopes for a monumental upset went with it. Georgia fell 57-44 to top-ranked Kentucky, in a game that started fast and finished with a whimper.
“The atmosphere was great. I enjoyed every moment of the game,” said Georgia freshman Nemanja Djurisic, whose family was watching the game back home in eastern Europe. “It’s very frustrating to lose to a team like this in a winnable ball game.”
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The game drew a raucous crowd, dotted with luminaries. Two members of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Mitchell Boggs (a former Georgia pitcher) and Jake Westbrook (a one-time Georgia signee who went pro). Former Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent, now with the Atlanta Falcons, was also in the building.
And a bunch of current football players showed up, including freshman Ray Drew in a Bahamian wig and holding a sign.
“It was definitely a lot of fun to play, and one of the best crowds since I’ve been here,” Georgia senior guard Dustin Ware said.
Kentucky, as usual, had a strong fan presence on the road. Several chants of “Go Big Blue” arose among the announced crowd of 10,523 at Stegeman Coliseum.
The Bulldog fans had their moments, especially as their team hung close with the Wildcats for much of the first half. It was a one-point game when Georgia’s Gerald Robinson hit teammate Donte’ Williams for an ally-oop. Djurisic also had 10 points in the first 13 minutes.
But Georgia’s offense stagnated, and Kentucky kept pouring in 3s. The Wildcats were 6-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, and pulled away to a 12-point halftime lead.
“We had a burp there late in the first half and we were just never able to get back in striking distance,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “We played even, really, from then on. But that burp in the first half was really costly.”
Kentucky (20-1, 6-0 SEC) was too much with its assortment of highly-recruited talent. Senior Darius Miller had 19 points, hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. Freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist each reached double digits in rebounds.
Meanwhile Georgia’s best player, freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, struggled to a seven-point game. Robinson, the team’s second-leading scorer, finished with six points, and the pair combined to shoot 6-for-25.
“I thought both Kentavious and Gerald got caught up in the moment a little bit,” Fox said. “They were obviously a focal point of their defense.”
But offense has been a challenge all season for Georgia, and especially lately. Last week they needed overtime to get 57 points in a win over Tennessee, and last Saturday they lost 66-63 to Ole Miss, with a late flurry of scoring.
Georgia (10-10, 1-5) is now off until Feb. 1, when it travels to Auburn. It has a lot to work on.
“We’re getting good looks, honestly. There’s been a lid on the basket for us the past few games,” Ware said. “But I think it’s good because we’ve got some time off now, we’ve got a chance to get ourselves back on rhythm, and really just get ourselves ready back going, back in rhythm like we were when we ran a few wins off.”