LEXINGTON, Ky. — Georgia coach Pete Herrmann says he still believes Kentucky deserves an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. After what his Bulldogs did to the Wildcats, it’s doubtful the selection committee will agree.
The all-time winningest college basketball program is in serious risk of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991 after Georgia’s 90-85 victory on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said the loss was his fault.
"I take the blame for it," he said. "I’ve tried a bunch of different things and none of them seem to be working. I thought we played hard. I don’t think we played smart."
Georgia (12-18, 3-12 Southeastern Conference) won for just the fourth time in 32 meetings at Rupp Arena. The Bulldogs’ last win against Kentucky (19-11, 8-7) came last year as one of their four victories en route to an SEC tournament title.
Kentucky likely must duplicate that feat, or could be playing in the National Invitation Tournament rather than the NCAAs later this month. The Wildcats have one last regular-season game on Saturday at Florida, another team fighting for its tournament life after a loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
"Obviously with the scores tonight, it’s going to make the SEC tournament a really terrific tournament down in Tampa," Herrmann said.
On a night Kentucky honored Jared Carter, its lone senior, in pregame ceremonies, it was Georgia’s lone four-year senior, Terrance Woodbury, who spoiled the party.
Woodbury had 30 points, two off his career-high, scoring the Bulldogs’ first nine points, then following with clutch baskets down the stretch. Among them was his fourth 3-pointer of the game midway through the second half that helped halt a rally and hush the Rupp Arena crowd.
"It just took a while to gel together," said Woodbury, who also made all 12 of his free throw attempts. "Tonight was an example of what this team could have been."
Trey Thompkins had 19 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth career double-double.
The Wildcats, down by 10 with less than seven minutes left, cut the lead to 88-85 after Jodie Meeks nailed a 3 with one second to go. But they would get no closer as Georgia’s Dustin Ware made two free throws.
"We just stayed composed the entire game," Georgia’s Corey Butler said. "That’s what we preached going into the game."
The disappointment for Kentucky came despite the team finding, at least for one night, a long-sought third scorer behind Meeks and Patrick Patterson.
That turned out to be point guard Michael Porter, who set career highs with 15 points and five 3-pointers. One of his long-range misses, however, was a critical airball down the stretch.
"It’s definitely depressing," Porter said. "It’s a heartbreaking loss. We have to bounce back, though."
Meeks led the Wildcats with 23 points, scoring all but three of his points in the second half. Patterson had 14. Georgia made 50 percent of its shots and outrebounded the Wildcats 38-27. Kentucky also had 16 steals and 14 blocked shots, but the clutch points almost always went to Georgia.
With the Wildcats down 53-51, Georgia took the lead for good by scoring the next 10 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Butler and Thompkins.