ATHENS — There have been achingly close games, not just this season but over the course of the past few seasons. One such loss even had Georgia fans giving their team a standing ovation as it left the court.
What there hasn’t been is that signature victory that serves as a breakthrough for the program. And no opponent signifies that better than the one that visits Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday.
Kentucky nearly lost to Georgia when the teams first met this season, January in Rupp Arena. It took a Malik Monk shot to tie it in the final seconds, and then overtime. Last year Georgia led Kentucky in the second half of the teams’ SEC tournament semifinal, only to fall. And two years ago the Bulldogs came close to upsetting the then-No. 1 and unbeaten Wildcats.
The previous paragraph reads like a summation of this season: This will be Georgia’s sixth game against a ranked team. The Bulldogs are winless so far, but twice went to overtime, and a third time lost by only two.
“We’re able to compete with pretty much everybody if we come to play and we finish plays,” Georgia junior forward Yante Maten said.
But the Bulldogs (15-11 overall, 6-7 in the SEC) have very little to show for it so far. And the chance to get that kind of signature win, badly needed if Georgia has any chance at an NCAA bid, is diminishing.
“It’s pretty frustrating, but when you lose, when you’re so close to winning and you lose, it’s pretty frustrating,” Maten said. “You have to channel that frustration, and make the best out of it, find what you need, what you’re lacking in, what the team is needing, and try to work on that.”
There are a couple reasons not to be as optimistic about Georgia’s chances this time around: Kentucky starting point guard De’Aaron Fox missed the first game with an illness. And while Kentucky entered that game with a two-game losing streak, the Wildcats enter this game hot, with its typically young team playing a lot better now.
But Georgia is playing better as well, coming in on a two-game winning streak. And it’s hoping for some rare home-court advantage over John Calipari’s powerhouse team.
This will be only the second time in the past four seasons that Kentucky has come to Stegeman Coliseum. The previous visit was that near-miss two years ago, in front of Bill Belichick, Charles Barkley and Ashley Judd, among others.
Georgia has managed to threaten the Wildcats on the road and in the SEC Tournament too. But Georgia coach Mark Fox wishes he’d had more shots at them at home.
“I’ve been telling John, you oughta come to Athens more,” Fox cracked.
But even at home, wins over ranked teams have been elusive. Georgia actually played better on the road against Florida and South Carolina than it did at Stegeman.
Georgia’s last victory against a top 25 team — AP or coaches poll — was last year at home against South Carolina, when the Gamecocks were No. 25. Prior to that it was in 2014, at then-No. 21 Missouri.
Georgia is 2-22 against Top 25 teams since the start of the 2012-13 season, and 9-39 in Fox’s eight seasons at Georgia.
“We’ve got to keep trying to win as many as we can,” Fox said. “Obviously when you’re playing a great opponent, more people are watching. So I think for us it’s important to win the next game. This is obviously a big opportunity.”