Finish with flourish: Georgia tops Kentucky in last home game

The Kentucky Wildcats that visited Stegeman Coliseum Thursday night won’t be found ranked in the top 25.

They are looking more and more like they could be on the outside looking in when the NCAA tournament field comes out a week from Sunday but none of that mattered when the final buzzer sounded.

Georgia will take a double-digit victory over a marquee program a year after it won the national title any time.

A season-high crowd of 10,062 fans celebrated after Georgia’s 72-62 win on senior night.

“They’re still the national champions until someone else takes it,” said Georgia senior guard Sherrard Brantley, who had a pair of 3-pointers and six points. “To beat them on senior night at home, it’s a great win for us.”

Georgia beat Kentucky for just the second time in the last seven meetings.

“It’s a great deal because Kentucky’s a great program, a powerhouse program,” senior center John Florveus said. “They’ve been winning for years.”

Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia with 24 points and 10 rebounds. The crowd erupted on Caldwell-Pope’s two-handed jam with 4:55 to go for a 58-47 Bulldogs lead.

“I’m disappointed that somebody gave their seats to somebody in a blue shirt over there in the first row, but I’m really proud of the kids that wore red and black tonight,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “That’s a great win versus a terrific team, a well-coached team that’s had to reinvent themselves after the loss of maybe the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.”

That would be freshman forward Nerlens Noel, out with a torn ACL.

Kentucky coach John Calipari would beg to differ with Fox’s opinion after his team’s fourth straight road loss.

“I am so disappointed in the job I’ve done with this team,” Calipari said. “I’ve never had a team not cohesive at this time of year.”

Georgia (15-15, 9-8 SEC) is assured of its third SEC record of .500 or better in the past 10 years.

The Bulldogs close out the regular season at Alabama at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Kentucky (20-10, 11-6) shot 37.1 percent, including 6 of 26 on 3-pointers. Guard Archie Goodwin led the Wildcats with 20 points before fouling out.

“They came out with some fire,” Florveus said. “You could tell in everything they were doing that it was a really big game for them. They needed to win those two games (including Saturday against Florida). We just had to withstand that and try to come out with the W.”

Neither team was ahead by more than six in a first half that included seven lead changes and a long, off-balance trey from Caldwell-Pope from the right wing to beat the halftime buzzer.

Sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic added 12 for Georgia, which opened a 44-34 lead with 13:12 left after a 3-pointer from Djurisic and an alley-oop jam from Charles Mann to Donte’ Williams.

Djurisc just two 3-pointers since Jan. 26, but he hit another with 9:31 left to make it 47-38.

“Nemi coming in and shooting the ball is great for us,” Brantley said. “He had me jumping. … I’m glad he got a chance to knock down a couple of shots”

Caldwell-Pope was 6 of 19 from the field and missed his first eight shots in second half, but he completed a three-point play after driving layup with 9:05 to play for a 50-40 lead.

The Wildcats ran off seven straight points, capped by a Kyle Wiltjer 3-pointer to trim the lead to three with 7:47 to go.

The Bulldogs then reeled off 12 straight points and opened a 62-47 lead. Georgia made 21 of 24 free throws in the second half, including 8 of 8 from Donte’ Williams, who had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Texas A&M’s loss to LSU on Wednesday assured that Georgia sewed up a first-round bye in the SEC tournament and will play its first game on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. Georgia can still be seeded anywhere from No. 6 to No. 9.

Georgia began the night ranked No. 133 in the RPI. The lowest-rated team in the RPI that Kentucky had lost to previously was Arkansas, which is No. 76.

That would qualify this as a bad loss for the Wildcats, but Fox didn’t see it that way.

“We didn’t start the season well, but if you look at the last five to six weeks, we’ve got a pretty good little basketball team right now, pretty competitive,” Fox said. “We’ve got a ways to go. I’m not saying we’ve arrived, I’m not saying we’ve done anything, but we’ve become a better basketball team. I don’t think a loss to us should be considered a bad loss.”

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