Notice Served

ATHENS - Georgia served notice to the rest of the SEC with it's win over Kentucky Saturday.

Even beforehand, despite the magnitude of the game, the players in the Georgia men's basketball locker room didn't detect too lively an atmosphere. Trey Thompkins, the team's star, later said his team was "geeked up," but no moreso than normal.

So there was no nervous energy when the game against No. 10 Kentucky started. And after leading most of the way, there was no panic when Georgia found itself time.

What there was for the Bulldogs was the latest step in their metamorphasis: A signature win, 77-70, over the SEC's marquee team.

"I think we did a good job with emotion," Thompkins said. "We're a more mature team than we've been in the past." Georgia (12-2 overall, 1-0 in the SEC) only got one vote in last week's Associated Press poll. It figures to get more than that now.

"I think it might make a statement," guard Gerald Robinson said. "It should make a statement."

Thompkins put it another way.

"We expect to play with teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida," he said. "We feel like we're just as good as they are." Still, the Bulldogs hadn't quite proven that until Saturday. After beating Kentucky (12-3, 0-1), they have their biggest notch – so far - on their NCAA tournament resume'.

Emotion seemed to be as key to Georgia's strategy as rebounding and defense – two other facts that were in its favor. A bigger one may have been free throw shooting: Georgia was 30-for-34 from the line, while Kentucky was 10-for-16.

Georgia started the game with a 7-0 lead, and led by 11 at the half. It didn't seem too riled up by the emotion of the rare sellout crowd at Stegeman Coliseum, which had its share of Kentucky fans but was predominantly pro-Georgia.

The only time Georgia head coach Mark Fox felt his team got too emotional was early in the second half. Indeed, Kentucky clawed back, and took its first lead, 56-55, with 10:05 left in the game on a Terrence Jones three-point play.

But the Bulldogs steadied themselves, pulling ahead again. The key sequence followed:

Robinson hit two free throws to make it 64-59. On the other end, first Jones and then Josh Harrelson missed chippies. Georgia rebounded, and a short time later Thompkins banked in a leaning shot to extend the lead to seven.

"He made a player-of-the-year kind of play, at a key moment," Fox said of Thompkins' shot. "But better than that was his rebounding late in the game."

(The rebounding in general was solid: Thompkins had seven, while Jeremy Price had 10, Chris Barnes had five in 15 mintues and even guard Travis Leslie had eight).

Kentucky's last gasp came when Jones nailed a 3 from the top of the key to make it 67-62 with 2:13 left. But Robinson answered with two more free throws, and after a Wildcat airball, Leslie grabbed the rebound.

"We talked a lot at the half about the fact that we're mature enough to play two halves, we're mature enough to withstand a run that we know they're gonna make," Fox said. "And that we're an older team now, and we should be able to finish this game if we play the game right."

That finally happened on Saturday.

Afterwards, Thompkins was asked if the win puts the Bulldogs in the conversation with the other teams in the powerful SEC East.

"Hopefully it does," he said, then added: "But as a unit, we're gonna stay humble."

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