ATHENS -- Georgia won its ninth consecutive basketball game Saturday -- the Bulldogs' longest win streak in almost three decades -- but this victory will get a lot more attention than the previous eight.
The unranked Bulldogs upset No. 10-ranked and perennially powerful Kentucky 77-70 in both teams' SEC opener at sold-out Stegeman Coliseum -- a convincing victory that validated Georgia's 11-2 non-conference record and served notice that this is a team to be reckoned with.
"It lets us know we can play with anybody," said forward Trey Thompkins, who had a game-high 25 points.
Georgia hasn't lost in more than six weeks, last losing to Temple on the day after Thanksgiving, and its nine-game win streak is the program's longest since the Final Four season of 1982-83.
Until Saturday, Georgia's streak hadn't generated much fanfare, in part because of the state's obsession with football and in part because of the teams the Bulldogs had beaten along the way: Manhattan, UAB, Georgia Tech, Arkansas State, High Point, Mercer, Charleston Southern and Eastern Kentucky. Four of those wins were by three points or fewer. None could be called a signature victory.
Suffice to say, Kentucky was a step up in competition.
And Georgia responded by stepping up its game.
"I think it might make a statement," guard Gerald Robinson said of the victory. Then he added: "It should make a statement."
The Bulldogs (12-2, 1-0 SEC) hope the victory over the Wildcats (12-3, 0-1) will vault them into the Top 25 rankings for the first time since March 2003. That would mean, among other things, that they would get the satisfaction of seeing their scores on national telecasts, something that is limited to ranked teams.
"We watch TV; everybody watches TV," Thompkins said. "We want to be on the TV just like everybody else."
For that matter, he said, he would just like to see Georgia among the ranked teams on the Stegeman Coliseum video board.
"Even our board up there, they have the Top 25," he said. "We want to be on it."
Georgia played like a Top 25 team against Kentucky. The Bulldogs led 41-30 at halftime and withstood a fierce second-half Wildcats rally. The Dogs trailed once, 56-55 with 10:05 to play, but quickly reclaimed a 58-56 lead on a Dustin Ware 3-pointer. A key half-hook from the baseline by Thompkins -- "a player-of-the-year type play," coach Mark Fox said -- stretched the lead to 66-59 with 2:40 left. Georgia clinched the win by making 11 of 12 free throws in the final 2:23; the Bulldogs made 30 of 34 free throws (88.2 percent) for the game.
Thompkins was one of four Georgia players to score in double figures. Robinson had 17 points, Travis Leslie 15 and Dustin Ware 10. Jeremy Price had 10 rebounds, Leslie eight and Thompkins seven as Georgia outrebounded the Wildcats 41-37.
"Georgia … really played well," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They rebounded well, shot well, and we didn't do the same. Georgia made us play the way we played."
The game drew an enthusiastic capacity crowd, which included Georgia football coach Mark Richt and most of his assistants, who were hosting recruits.
"It's a great win for our program," Fox said. "We beat a very good basketball team."
Georgia next plays Wednesday night at Vanderbilt.
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