Georgia basketball spiked again Tuesday night, as it is wont to do on rare occasion. It is like one of those exotic flowers that may go a decade or more between blooming, the corpse lily of college hoops.
Old Stegeman Coliseum was stuffed with fans, the place wrapped in an unwashed blanket of body heat. The noise rose to heartbeat-altering levels. Only this time, unlike so many others when Kentucky was in the house, the vast majority of the din originated from chests clothed in red and black rather than Lexington blue.
“We had a fantastic crowd tonight, the best environment since I’ve been here,” Georgia senior Jordan Harris said. “I want to thank the fans personally. Everyone showed up tonight.”
So, this is what it’s like at those places where basketball is a thing, a trait that seems to skip this state every generation or more.
This is what we have been missing.
Yes, please, more of this.
Jay Bilas comes to your town and speaks hopefully of the future. The pass list goes two pages with names of NBA evaluators wanting a firsthand view of the talent — there were 31 of them from 19 teams, according to UGA. They play a game obscenely late, at an hour when only some special draw can keep eyeballs connected to ESPN. And, this time it was the Bulldogs, not the Wildcats, who possessed the most mercurial one, the flashiest single-season tourist on campus who must be appreciated quickly before tumbling down the golden rabbit hole of the NBA lottery. That would be Bulldogs guard Anthony Edwards, Ant Man to pop culture.
And when Edwards took an inbounds pass down the baseline and orchestrated a stirring dunk near the close of the first half, who should be at courtside whooping it up like he was on scholarship? That would be the Hawks’ own sensation, Trae Young, accompanied by an obligatory rapper.
Amid all this basketball pageantry, only one detail escaped the Bulldogs on Tuesday. It remains a rather important one if they are to build something solid upon the buzz that Tom Crean has created.
For a 13th consecutive time, Kentucky beat Georgia, overcoming an eight-point deficit early in the second half to win without undue stress at the end, 78-69. That pushed the Wildcats overall record against Georgia to 128-26, a ledger of oppression that not even Kirby Smart can avenge.
Nothing happened to spoil John Calipari’s wonderful time in The Classic City. The Kentucky coach spoke of wistfully wandering downtown Athens during the day, grabbing a slice at Little Italy and admiring this campus that somehow strikes the compromise between sprawl and charm. And if he keeps talking like this about the Georgia job being among the top couple in the SEC, sooner or later somebody’s going to buy it.
What happened during this game — so eagerly anticipated after the Bulldogs upset Memphis just three days ago — was simple enough. After the Bulldogs rode the energy of the moment to a 37-31 halftime lead, Kentucky became Kentucky and Georgia became Georgia.
All the Bulldogs’ young players — the aforementioned Harris must feel like a tenured professor among the nine freshmen — showed their lack of age. Kentucky, hardly senior-laden itself, managed to jump into the lead with eight minutes to play and never look back. For emphasis, the Wildcats outscored Georgia 8-3 in the final minute and a half.
The heralded Ant Man was too comfortable shooting 3’s — and missing 66 percent of them — rather than going hard to the rim. With 23 points, he still was the game’s high scorer, but it was a quiet accomplishment.
“I feel we didn’t play with toughness in the second half. I played bad defense. We all played bad defense,” Edwards said.
As this sold-out place roared, Crean deeply appreciated the effort but came across one limitation. “They couldn't help us get a rebound, unfortunately,” he said.
An early loss to Kentucky, the SEC opener at that, certainly doesn’t mean that Georgia’s season will fold up like one of those inflatable Santas still in the front yard on Jan. 7. There remains a resume to build, and this is a collection capable of building one. But it certainly won’t be easy. Next up, Saturday at No. 5 Auburn.
“What we’re getting ready to deal with Saturday will be tougher than anything we’ve done all year,” Crean warned.
There might be something worth watching in this basketball team all the way to March, but anyone who has spent much time in these parts knows that such faith is dangerous.
This may not be a Georgia basketball season so compelling that Jake Fromm just has to stick around to see how it comes out. That just may not be a deciding factor for him. But for a while longer — with a whole gaggle of future games already sold out — there is great potential for mild curiosity. Nights like Tuesday don’t come along often here. It was still special in a way, in everything but result.
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