Kario Oquendo takes over in overtime, leads Georgia basketball to 81-78 win

Georgia during a game against South Carolina at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Jan 28, 2023. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Olivia Wilson

ATHENS -- Kario Oquendo dominated South Carolina in overtime as Georgia basketball coach Mike White earned a much-needed win.

Oquendo scored all of his team’s 8 overtime points as the Bulldogs (14-7, 4-4 SEC) improved to 12-1 at home with an 81-78 win.

The sophomore was far from perfect through the first 40 minutes, totaling just 8 points with three crucial missed free throws late in the second half. Oquendo was 6-of-8 shooting from the foul line in overtime.

“He struggled from the line a little bit and really stepped up with his level of poise or swagger or both,” White said. “He stepped up with confidence and converted at the end when it counted the most.”

Oquendo finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and a steal.

The win also snapped a pair of ugly streaks for the Bulldogs, who had dropped three straight conference games and lost 12 straight to the Gamecocks (8-13, 1-7).

White said on Tuesday that he needed more defensive intensity from his team. He got just that down the stretch as Georgia found success in a rare press defense, much to the enjoyment of a rowdy sellout crowd at Stegeman Coliseum.

“A couple of the biggest factors in the game ... were the press and the crowd,” White said. “I thought they worked hand in hand. When we got in press and it got really loud, it helps you with your press.”

It certainly was not a perfect game for Georgia. The Bulldogs entered as 10.5-point favorites, severely underperforming the expectations of the betting experts.

White’s team still notched its 12th home win of the season and stopped what had the makings of a potential season-killing losing streak.

Indeed, UGA has proved its worth when trailing in the final 10 minutes, notching conference wins against Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the same fashion.

“All year most of our wins ... have been grind out games, they haven’t been overly pretty,” White said. “It’s just kind of our identity.

“If we hadn’t won a few of the really close ones to this point, especially at home, I’m not sure that we come away with this one because early second half, it was pretty bleak for us.”

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The Bulldogs cut South Carolina’s commanding first half lead to 37-35 with a 15-8 run in the half’s final seven minutes.

Mardrez McBride sank his third and fourth 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to pull UGA even at 35. South Carolina’s Hayden Brown sailed in for a putback dunk to regain the lead at the buzzer.

Jabri Abdur Rahim contributed 5 points of his own to the run on a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws.

McBride shot 4 of 4 from 3-point range in the first half, the most he has made in a game this season. His season-high 17 points led the UGA attack.

McBride, an Augusta native, also mentioned the significance of beating South Carolina, a school that did not recruit him despite being just 75 miles away.

McBride attended two junior colleges before transferring to North Texas and ultimately, Georgia.

“They could have recruited me out of high school, but they didn’t, so it feels really good,” he said.

The fifth year senior helped compensate for scoreless first halves from Terry Roberts and Oquendo, who lead the team in scoring this season.

Georgia is back in action on the road against Auburn at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Alabama. The Bulldogs upset the No. 15-ranked Tigers in Athens by a 76-64 count in their SEC opener.

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