ATHENS - It was finally the kind of big win that Georgia had lacked this early in a season. The kind that it could point to later in the season as it stated its case for the NCAA tournament.
And yet the Bulldogs still couldn't fully enjoy it.
Georgia got an important victory over Colorado, 64-57, on Sunday at Stegeman Coliseum. But it was marred by a shoulder injury to shooting guard Kenny Gaines, one of the team's top players.
"He’s at the hospital right now. That's never a good sign," head coach Mark Fox said minutes after the game. "But we'll keep our finger crossed."
Hopeful news did come a short time later. Gaines has a sprain, according to a team spokesman, which likely means no surgery. If it stays that way, Gaines has time to heal up. The Bulldogs have the next two weeks off because of finals, then host Seton Hall in another important non-conference test.
The fact they finally passed this test was a huge lift heading into the long break.
"It was absolutely critical for us," said Georgia senior Marcus Thornton, who led the way with 16 points.
Colorado (5-2) made the NCAA tournament last year and was predicted to make a run at another bid this year. So were the Bulldogs, but they started off 3-3, losing games to Georgia Tech, Gonzaga and Minnesota that would have improved their resume'. That made this one almost necessary, and they got it.
"That's a resume' win, there's no way around it," Fox said. "And to be honest with you, it's the first time in a long time we've had a resume' opportunity at home. I think that was a big part of it."
The non-conference season has been Georgia's downfall the previous two seasons, especially last year. The Bulldogs finished tied for second place in the SEC, but its 6-6 non-conference record ruined its NCAA chances.
So this year plenty of emphasis has been placed on the first two months of the season, and the first three losses hit hard.
"I actually thought driving on the way in here, Man, I think our kids might be feeling a little pressure," Fox said. "Just because you've got an opportunity here and you've gotta seize it. Even one of my assistants said, 'I think we're a little tight,' before the game. Fortunately for us we were able to play well, and sometimes that helps you play well.
"We had a little edge to us, and we were able to play with that edge in the first half."
It was close for awhile, but Georgia finished the first half on a 16-3 run, then continued it into the second half. Colorado went scoreless from 4:11 of the first half until 17:00 of the second half. Georgia used the time to take a 16-point lead.
Georgia had a 13-point lead with 11:59 left when Gaines went down. He hit the court hard diving for a loose ball, a Colorado player landing on top of him. Colorado then began to whittle the lead. Thornton hit some key shots to answer Colorado’s run. And Nemanja Djurisic had a driving baseline reverse layup to put Georgia back up 10 with 4:10 left.
And point guard J.J. Frazier (15 points off the bench) made key 3-pointers and late free throws.
"Last year it took us a long time to get some success, to see some success. This definitely helps," Thornton said. "We still feel like we left a lot out on the court. Kenny didn't finish the game, hopefully he's OK."
Thornton was asked how concerned he was about Gaines.
"We hope and pray he's all right, and hopefully he'll be back in two weeks," Thornton said. "Glad we've got two weeks."