Georgia tips off at Kentucky hunting statement win over Big Blue basketball royalty
ATHENS — The new bounce in Georgia basketball this season is about to get put to the test in Kentucky.
Coach Mike White’s Bulldogs have raised a few eyebrows this season with their 13-4 start and 3-1 SEC record.
But beating the Wildcats in Lexington — something Georgia hasn’t done in nearly 14 years — would take things to a whole new level.
The UGA men’s basketball game at Kentucky tips off at 9 p.m. in storied Rupp Arena and will feature ESPN coverage.
The game will receive more attention than most with the Wildcats looking to add momentum and Georgia hoping to make a statement.
Indeed, for all the Bulldogs have accomplished — including a 76-64 win over No. 16 Auburn — few outside the program are taking UGA basketball seriously.
Yes, White has improved the program and Kario Oquendo is an explosive scorer and Bradley transfer Terry Roberts was deemed the “real deal” by Bruce Pearl.
Roberts is the SEC’s leading scorer in conference action, averaging 20.3 points in four league games, while Oquendo looks to match or exceed the 22 points he scored in a 92-77 loss at Rupp Arena last year.
Still, most SEC fans -- and even some Georgia fans -- are still not familiar with the names of the Bulldogs’ basketball players.
To that point, there were 43 teams receiving votes to be within an AP top 25 that includes four 5-loss teams this week — and the Bulldogs weren’t one of them.
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Of course, neither was Kentucky (11-6, 2-3), even though White correctly points out the Wildcats are suddenly as dangerous as ever after snapping No. 9 Tennessee’s 25-game home win streak last Saturday.
“Winning at Kentucky is a whole different deal,” said White, whose Bulldogs most recently have beaten SEC cellar dwellers Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
“They are coming off arguably the best win of the season at Tennessee, a big-time performance, especially defensively,” Georgia’s first-year coach said. “Every point will be difficult to come by. But if we play really, really good, who knows?
“A couple of months ago, I’m not sure that would have been the collective thought.”
That is a fair evaluation from the head basketball coach and a promising sign of the direction of the program.
White had a massive rebuild at Georgia on his hands after putting a malcontent Florida fanbase behind him and restarting in Athens.
This Georgia team has eight new players (including six transfers) and is off to its best SEC start (3-1) in six years, having won six of its past seven outings.
White — who was the SEC Coach of the Year at Florida the last time UGA started a season 3-1 (2017) — has something to prove at Kentucky, too, having lost seven of his last eight meetings with John Calipari.
Georgia has lost 15 of its last 16 meetings against the Wildcats, too, and likely won’t be given much of a chance by many in tonight’s game.
After all, the Bulldogs were picked to finish 13th in the 14-team SEC, and for all of Kentucky’s recent struggles the Wildcats are still considered to be basketball royalty.
Tonight would be a big win, but it’s certainly not a must-win game.
The Bulldogs have a 10-game home win streak that ranks among the best in school history that they are intent on protecting when Vanderbilt comes to Stegeman Coliseum for a 1 p.m. tip on Saturday.
The formula in the SEC is protect the home court and steal a few on the road.
Getting a win at Kentucky would require a grand theft.
And it would also put Georgia basketball back on the map.