NASHVILLE — Georgia probably played its best game of the season, at least most of the way. It still wasn’t enough, because it was playing against probably the best team it’s faced.
Georgia out-played mighty Kentucky for most of the game, as the two engaged in an entertaining offensive showcase for 30 minutes. But then the Wildcats’ firepower proved too much, the Bulldogs couldn’t find any answers and their SEC tournament run was over.
Kentucky pulled away for a 93-80 win in the SEC semifinals, and now Georgia (19-13) awaits its uncertain postseason fate. Head coach Mark Fox will lobby for an NCAA tournament invitation, pointing to his team’s non-conference schedule strength and strong finish to the season. But analysts believed coming into Saturday that Georgia at minimum had to beat Kentucky to have a chance.
The eye test also matters to the selection committee, and for most of this game, Georgia passed it.
Georgia played by far its best first half of the season, shooting 61 percent from the floor, including 6-for-12 beyond the arc. Gaines led the way with 14 points, but two of the biggest shots came from little-used freshman Turtle Jackson. He nailed two 3s in the first half, after entering the game with three 3s all season. He hit a third 3 in the second half.
Mark Fox also subbed liberally, platooning at several points, as his team was playing its third game in three days, and second in less than 24 hours. Reserves Kenny Paulu Geno and Mike Edwards each played 10 minutes, while Yante Maten’s 13 minutes were the most on the team.
Georgia maintained the lead into the second half, but eventually Kentucky’s firepower proved too much. Tyler Ulis hit several big 3s, and Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray poured in baskets. Kentucky took its first lead of the second half with eight minutes left, then grew it to as much as nine with four minutes left. Eventually it led by 11, then hit free throws down the stretch to forestall any comeback hopes.
Maten led Georgia with 20 points, while Frazier had 19 and Gaines 16, with most of Gaines’ points coming in the first half. That was the main problem for the Bulldogs: Not being able to keep it going.
More updates and observations soon.