ATHENS — Georgia basketball has a ways to go to reach the goals Tom Crean was hired to attain, but Wednesday night was a big step.
The Bulldogs came from six down with two minutes left to beat Kentucky 63-62, showing the sort of poise and grit it takes to win in what’s become a deep SEC basketball league.
It was Georgia’s first win over the Wildcats since March 7, 2013, snapping a string of 14-straight losses to Big Blue.
The dogpile celebration on the floor was pure joy, evidence the Bulldogs’ players meant it when they said last week they were determined to get back to having more fun playing the game.
Indeed, the same players served notice to Crean after a win at Ole Miss last Saturday that he was going to be a part of it, too, dumping Gatorade over him.
Crean, his pacing more extreme than his personality, seemed to take pleasure in revealing it was the first time in 21 years he had been drenched by his team.
Here are three key things from Wednesday night’s victory.
Total Team Win
It’s cliche, but Crean has been harping on it all year: this team lacks the star power No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Edwards provided last season. It’s going to take something from everybody, and they got it against Kentucky.
• Andrew Garcia is a 6-foot-5 transfer from Stony Brook who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 16 points
• Justin Kier is a transfer from George Mason who led the team with 5 steals and 2 blocked shots
• Toumani Camara is a 6-8 sophomore from Belgium who led the team with nine rebounds
• Sahvir Wheeler is a 5-9 sophomore who led the team with 7 assists
• P.J. Horne is a 6-6 transfer from Virginia Tech who hit the game-winning basket.
It’s only the second time in three years Georgia has won back-to-back SEC games — last year the Bulldogs beat Auburn and Vanderbilt in consecutive outings.
Momentum is a very real thing, and the Bulldogs grabbed it last Saturday with a 78-74 win at Ole Miss, in another game that came down to the wire.
Crean’s coaching skills are obvious. He’s won both his games against Georgia Tech (2018, 2019), in addition to upset victories over Texas, Florida, Memphis, Tennessee and Auburn.
But beating Kentucky in basketball is extra special, and one that resonates with boosters and fans.
Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky
Georgia fans were climbing the walls during the SEC Network broadcast, as seemingly every narrative was about what Kentucky was doing right, or what Kentucky was doing wrong.
Occasionally the color analyst took time to say that Sahvir Wheeler — the SEC’s assists leader — needed someone else to make a play.
The Wildcats were the beneficiaries of some questionable calls, most notably a flagrant foul on Tye Fagan that helped trigger a 14-4 UK run.
Kentucky had more free-throw opportunities than Georgia, too, 13-of-18 from the free-throw line while UGA was 7-of-9.
Perhaps most interesting was hearing commentary about the challenges Calparii has trying to find the right combination of talent to put on the floor.
Kentucky had the No. 1-ranked signing class in 2020, including two of the top seven players.
How is that more challenging than Crean working with the No. 33-ranked class?
Especially when one considers the makeup of Georgia’s 8 newcomers: three grad transfers, two junior college transfers and three freshmen.
It will take more work for Crean and Georgia to change the narrative — there aren’t many believers outside the locker room.
But what matters most is what’s happening in the huddle, and these Bulldogs are believing and buidling confidence in one another.