It was the Bulldogs’ first win over a ranked team this season and second in three years over coach Penny Hardaway’s talented Memphis team. Georgia also upset the Tigers, then ranked No. 9, in Memphis in January 2020.
Making Wednesday’s upset even more of a stunner was the Bulldogs (3-5) were playing without their starting point guard, Aaron Cook. The graduate transfer from Gonzaga was sidelined because of illness and not scratched until he couldn’t go in the shoot-around.
No problem. Crean simply started Christian Wright at the point and the freshman from Alpharetta handled the ball like a champion. Against a team that led the nation in forced turnovers, the Bulldogs finished with 13, but only two in the second half.
“Two turnovers in the second half against that team is a victory in itself,” Crean said.
Wright finished with 17 points, three assists and just a single turnover while playing a career high 38 minutes.
“Aaron wasn’t feeling too well, so I knew I just had to handle the ball,” Wright said. “Coach explained how they were the leading team in forced turnovers. He told me to just make the simple play and not try to throw home-run passes and try to force passes. So I just tried to make the right reads.”
He did, and most of the time that was getting the ball to Kario Oquendo. The sophomore and first-year transfer from Florida Southwestern State finished with a season-high 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including two 3s.
Oquendo’s biggest play, though, came on defense. Right after the Bulldogs grabbed their first lead since the two-minute mark of the first half on Jabri Abdur-Rahim’s 3-pointer, Oquendo stole the ball from Memphis’ highly touted Emoni Bates and dribbled the length of the floor for yet another rim-rattling dunk. That gave Georgia an 80-77 lead with 1:32 to play.
“Kario took that ball, he just took it away,” Crean beamed.
The Bulldogs would have to withstand several more charges from the Tigers, who got within two on Landers Nolley’s dunk with 6.7 seconds remaining. Wright was fouled immediately after securing the ensuing inbound pass and made one of his two foul shots for the final margin.
Inbounding with 4.5 seconds to play, Memphis got off one more shot and it was a good one. But Bates’ lengthy 3 bounced off the rim.
Georgia got gritty performances from several other players before the most raucous home crowd of the season. Abdur-Rahim had 15 points after scoring a career-high 20 in the loss to Wofford on Sunday. And Jailyn Ingram and Braelen Bridges had 10 each to give the Bulldogs five players in double figures.
Tom Crean is 400-285 in 22 years as a coach.
Memphis had six players in double figures, led by Nolley with 17 and Alex Lomax with 14. Bates, a projected early NBA draft pick, finished with 11 on 5-of-11 shooting.
“It’s huge; it’s huge,” Crean said of getting No. 400. “When you start to look at victories, obviously I’m behind on average from what it had been, but when you’re with really, really good people like these kids, I’m really, really proud. They’re good kids, and there’s a lot of room for growth, and we’re starting to see it.”
Wednesday’s game was the second in an eight-game homestand that will take the Bulldogs into the new year. Next up is Jacksonville at 7 p.m. Tuesday.