Georgia’s furious finish at Florida wasn’t enough for the Bulldogs to overcome a slow start and poor shooting performance, resulting in a 70-63 loss in Gainesville.
UGA point guard Sahvir Wheeler scored a career-high 27 points (9-of-17 shooting) and had a career-high 5 steals for the Bulldogs (13-9, 6-9 SEC), who trailed by 15 points with 3 1/2 minutes left against the Gators (11-6, 6-4).
Tye Fagan had 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and a team-high 6 rebounds.
But Georgia’s trio of graduate transfer seniors was awful shooting the ball.
Justin Kier was 1-of-10 shooting, P.J. Horne was 0-for-5 shooting and Andrew Garcia was 0-for-2. UGA, collectively, was just 4-of-20 shooting beyond the 3-point arc.
Toumani Camara, Georgia’s best interior player, fouled out with 8:27 left and the Gators up 53-40. Camara had 7 points, 5 rebounds and 4 turnovers in one of his rougher offensive outings.
“To have our three seniors go 1-of-17 (shooting) and Toumani play half the game with foul issues, and still have a chance to win it in a two-possession game, says a lot about what the guys were doing defensively,” UGA coach Tom Crean said.
“It’s not like those guys were trying to miss …. our defense was keeping us in there.”
The Bulldogs also forced 20 Florida turnovers while committing only 12.
“The problem is we only scored 17 points off those turnovers,” Crean said. “We should have scored another 10 points off off those turnovers.”
Still, Georgia had its chances in the final minutes.
K.D. Johnson hit a 3-pointer to spark an 11-2 run that brought the Bulldogs back to 66-60 on a Fagan drive to the rim with 1:31 remaining.
The Gators, however, took care of business at the free-throw line to put the game away, going 4-of-4 the final 1 1/2 minutes as the Bulldogs failed to get closer than 6.
Crean said the progress his team made in the defeat, as invisible as it might seem, was how it played when the shots weren’t falling.
“When we started to make our comeback, we had six stops in a row,” Crean said. “The biggest thing is we defended when we weren’t shooting well, and we held them down.
“We were overmatched somewhat inside, but we continued to move in a good direction there (on defense) and that’s what we have to continue to build on.”
Florida’s 6-foot-11 forward Colin Castleton led the Gators with 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting and had 3 of the team’s 7 blocked shots.
Florida led by as many as 18 points in the first half before taking a 37-23 lead into intermission when Noah Locke hit a buzz-beating 3-pointer from the corner just before the buzzer.
The Gators used a 9-0 run to build their first double-digit lead at 16-6, as Georgia struggled to get off to a good start for the third time in the past four games.
The Bulldogs went 9 1/2 minutes between field goals, Camara scoring in the paint to cut the lead to 25-12 and snap what had been a string of 10 straight missed shots.
Georgia didn’t connect on a 3-pointer until there was 1:10 left in the first half when Fagan connected, making the Bulldogs 1 of 12 from three in the first half.
The Bulldogs return to action at 7 p.m. on Tuesday against LSU. The Tigers beat Georgia in Baton Rouge 94-92 on Jan. 6, benefitting from a controversial out-of-bounds call that replays showed should have gone the Bulldogs’ way.
LSU (14-6, 9-4), the fifth-straight SEC team projected to play in the NCAA tournament on Georgia’s schedule, beat Auburn 104-80 on Saturday in Baton Rouge.