ATHENS – Spotted two points before the opening tip, Georgia never relinquished that lead on the way to knocking off No. 12 Florida 76-62 Saturday afternoon at Stegeman Coliseum.
The Gators (22-7, 10-4 SEC) were assessed a technical foul because sophomore Casey Prather dunked the ball during pregame warmups. That’s considered an unsportsmanlike act, though it’s an infraction rarely enforced. Florida was also assessed a flagrant foul in the game’s final minute.
As it turned out, the Bulldogs (13-15, 4-10) could have given back all the freebies and still claimed victory as they played their best game of the season..
“It’s the first time I’ve seen it happen,” said freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points and 4 steals. “That definitely gave us a good feeling. It put us ahead two points and we just kept it going ’til the end of the game.”
The win broke a three-game losing streak for Georgia, which notched it’s second victory over a ranked team this season. The Bulldogs also knocked off No. 20 Mississippi State on Feb. 11. Georgia has won three of its last four home games against the Gators.
The Bulldogs will get a chance to pull off another an upset when they play No. 1-ranked Kentucky (28-1, 14-0) on Thursday in Lexington. Oddly enough, Georgia is the last team to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena (90-85 under interim coach Pete Herrmann in 2009).
“How much [of a chance] you think they’ll give us on Thursday?” Georgia coach Mark Fox quipped
It was the first loss in four games for Florida, which was trying to clinch a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament The Gators had their worst game of the season from 3-point range, shooting 21.7 percent and making only 5 treys. They are at Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
“I told Mark after the game that I really appreciated the job he’s done,” Florida coach Billy Donoan said. “When you’re 3-10 you can get beaten down and lose your fight. But Georgia fights all the time. Not just tonight. They do it all the time and I have a lot of respect for their team and their kids. I was happy for them.”
The reasons for Georgia’s upset were easily indentified in the final boxscore. The Bulldogs shot 53 percent from the field and had five players in double figures for the first time this season. Gerald Robinson had 7 assists to go with his 15 points. Sophomore forward Donte’ Williams had 11 points and 6 blocked shots. Dustin Ware was made two of his three 3-pointers and had three big steals down the stretch. Nemanja Djurisic had 12 points and 7 rebounds to put together a personal 7-0 run in one critical stretch midway through the second half.
“When you can beat [Florida] that’s certainly something to be proud of because I think they’re terrific,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I think they’re well-coached. I think they’re first class in many ways. So that’s a great win for Georgia and I was real proud of our team.”
Freshman Bradley Beal led the Gators with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
One of Caldwell-Pope’s steals came with 48.5 seconds remaining and he punctuated it with an emphatic, one-handed dunk in front of UGA’s student section. It also elicited a flagrant foul on Florida’s Patric Young well behind the play.
“That got us hyped up to finish the game like that,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We were having a lot of fun.We had a great crowd and it just felt good out there tonight.
Florida trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half but closed to within 67-62 on Kenny Boynton’s 3-pointer at the 1:53 mark.
The Gators had a chance to get even closer, but Beal fouled Georgia’s Dustin Ware with one second on the shot-clock as they battled for possession of the ball just inside the timeline. Ware made both free throws to extend the lead to seven.
Georgia closed out the game 9-0 run with two dunks and five free throws.
“I’m just proud of my guys, just everybody as a unit continuing to fight,” Georgia’s Robinson said. “It’s easy when you’re going through a lot of struggles to just pack it in. But the guys have kept on working hard and continued to fight knowing we were going to reap the benefits at some point in time. Today was one of those days.”