ATHENS — Georgia finally has a signature win.
Maybe now the rest of the country will take notice.
The up-and-coming Bulldogs claimed their biggest victory of Mark Fox's two-year coaching tenure, upsetting No. 10 Kentucky 77-70 on Saturday for their ninth straight win — the school's longest streak since its 1983 Final Four season.
"This is the type of game we needed to make a run for the NCAA tournament," said Trey Thompkins, who led Georgia with 25 points. "We feel we can play with anybody."
It's been a while since they felt that way at Georgia.
The program went into a long slide after a 2003 academic scandal that led to the ouster of coach Jim Harrick. The lone highlight since then was an improbable weekend at the tornado-plagued Southeastern Conference tournament three years ago, when the Bulldogs won the title with a team that finished last during the regular season.
Coach Dennis Felton was fired midway through the next season, then Fox was brought in to rebuild the team.
He's well on his way, though respect has been slow in coming. Even with an impressive record, the Bulldogs (12-2, 1-0 SEC) received only one point in last week's Associated Press rankings.
That should change now.
"We watch TV. We want to be on TV like everybody else is," Thompkins said. "Even our own (scoreboard) has the Top 25. We want to be on there."
Young, talented Kentucky (12-3, 0-1) came in with a seven-game winning streak but struggled to make shots and had three players foul out in the closing minutes.
"We have guys in these positions who have never been here before and we need them to make plays," said coach John Calipari, who has two freshmen as starters and another who gets extensive playing time. "We did a lot of things, but you have to give Georgia credit. They really played well. They rebounded well, shot well and we didn't do the same."
Thompkins hit a key one-handed shot from the baseline with 2:40 remaining. The ball appeared to come up short, but it crawled over the rim to give Georgia a 66-59 lead after it had squandered an 11-point halftime advantage.
"I practice that shot every day in the gym when I'm practicing all alone, because I know I'm going to have to go to it," he said. "Lord willing, it went in."
From there, the Bulldogs clinched it at the line, hitting 11 of 12 free throws, and Kentucky kept missing from beyond the 3-point arc in a futile attempt to catch up.
These are the kind of games Georgia lost a year ago, when it didn't have quite enough depth to finish strong. The Bulldogs have got the hang of it now, winning for the 10th time by single digits.
"The guys have been through the wars now and know how to handle their emotions in these type of games," Thompkins said.
Freshman Terrence Jones led Kentucky with 24 points, but the Wildcats shot only 38 percent from the field in putting up their second-lowest total of the season, nearly 10 points below their average.
The Wildcats couldn't cope with Georgia's physical style. There was plenty of banging and bumping, and the officials let 'em play.
"Their bumps affected us," Jones said. "We definitely didn't adjust to the bumps. Trying to draw fouls in physical games like this doesn't work. The refs aren't going to give it to you."
Gerald Robinson added 17 points for the Bulldogs, Travis Leslie 15 and Dustin Ware 10.
Georgia started the game quickly, scoring the first seven points, and ended the opening half on a 13-4 run. The Bulldogs went to the locker room with a 41-30 lead that matched the biggest of the half.
Calipari kept rubbing his hair in frustration and screamed at DeAndre Liggins after he put up a long 3-point attempt from the top of the key that clanked off the side of the rim.
Kentucky did have one promising stretch, wiping out Georgia's lead with an 11-0 spurt early in the second half. The Wildcats' only advantage, 56-55, came on Jones' three-point play with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Fox ripped off his jacket and flung it into a chair on the bench after an offensive foul against his team.
But Ware responded with a 3-pointer that restored Georgia's lead.
Doron Lamb scored 18 points for Kentucky before fouling out. Liggins and Darius Miller also fouled out.
Georgia's strong start brought out the first sellout crowd of the season at Stegeman Coliseum, and unlike previous years the stands were not filled out with a hefty chunk of blue. Only a smattering of Kentucky fans were visible in the mostly red-clad crowd of 10,523. Many others roamed around outside the building in a futile search for tickets.
"It's a great win for our program," Fox said. "I'm proud of our team and really thank all the fans who came out. They were such an important part of this win."