So, on Saturday, the Bulldogs not only beat the No. 8 Wildcats, they beat them up.
“That should shut some people up,” senior Damien Wilkins said. “We’ll see what they say about this one.”
In a game that featured two scraps resulting in double technical fouls and plenty of physical contact, Georgia prevailed 74-68 in front of 10,523 fans in Stegeman Coliseum.
Georgia improved to 12-10 overall and 4-7 in the SEC and will return to its home floor Tuesday at 9 p.m. to play Florida in a game televised by ESPN.
In the first 96 years of Bulldog basketball, Georgia swept Kentucky just twice. Saturday’s victory completed the Bulldogs’ second sweep in three years and fourth overall, and Georgia now has won four of its last six against the Wildcats.
Kentucky, which played without injured Macon native Gerald Fitch, fell to 17-4 overall and 7-3 in the league.
“Anytime you beat Kentucky, it’s something you can hang your hat on,” said senior Jonas Hayes, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points.
First-year Georgia coach Dennis Felton is now 3-0 against Kentucky, with two victories at Georgia and another in his previous job at Western Kentucky.
“Coach Felton knows how to beat these guys,” Wilkins said. “He’s got a recipe, and I don’t think he wants to share it. He has us so prepared. He knows everything they’re going to do before they do it.”
“Dennis and his staff put together a great game plan, and it’s worked every time,” Smith said.
Smith left the floor disgusted by how his players reacted to Georgia’s physical defense. The Bulldog seniors combined for 13 steals. Overall, Georgia had seven blocks, forced 22 turnovers and thoroughly frustrated Kentucky’s players.
Twice in the second half officials had to intervene when players went nose-to-nose during disagreements. While Georgia’s players said those moments fired them up, Smith was concerned his team shrunk from the fight.
“I think that’s part of it,” he said. “That’s what I’m concerned about. That should make you want to bow up and be more aggressive, and we didn’t do that. It rips your heart out. It really bothers me when guys don’t rise up to the challenge.”
In the second half, Kentucky’s starting forwards -- Chuck Hayes and Erik Daniels -- combined for just one field goal.
“We can’t win ... when Chuck is missing layups,” Smith said. “It’s just ridiculous. Erik was running around, wondering why he wasn’t getting the ball. He was scared to death.”
Kentucky guard Cliff Hawkins agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“Physically, they got to us,” he said. “They’re physicality was definitely an issue. We didn’t respond in the right ways.”
Georgia point guard Rashad Wright, who led the Bulldogs with 20 points in the previous meeting with Kentucky, hit just 1 of 14 shots but was a defensive force throughout with four steals and two blocks.
“Certainly, Rashad Wright caused a lot of problems,” Smith said. “His defensive presence controlled the game. Rashad Wright is the best guard in this part of the country in my opinion.”
Georgia, which was coming off a 39-point game against Vanderbilt, trailed Kentucky 31-23 at halftime but rallied with a 51-point second half. The Bulldogs took their first lead on a basket by Wilkins with 15:29 left that put them up 36-35.
In the next five minutes, the team’s traded the lead five times.
Georgia took it final lead when freshman Marcus Sikes hit three free throws with 10:34 left to give the Bulldogs a 46-43 advantage. Wright sealed the victory with nine free throws in the final 1:03.
Kelenna Azubuike had 24 points for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Bulldogs’ puzzling mastery of the Wildcats. “I don’t think it’s that we’ve got their number,” senior Chris Daniels said. “It’s just we come up big in big games.”
Felton said Georgia matches up well with Kentucky because Hayes and Daniels are just 6-foot-6 and 6-8, respectively, but Wilkins was more blunt.
“They don’t have anybody super-talented,” he said.