Date story published: Thursday, January 25, 1996
ATHENS, Ga. -- Kentucky got the close-game test its nit-picking critics coveted last night. Despite a few wobbles, UK passed the test with an 82-77 victory over Georgia.
UK, which hadn't lost since Nov. 28 and hadn't won by fewer than 17 points since Dec. 6, got the "war" Coach Rick Pitino predicted. The Cats led by no more than seven points in the final 13:42.
Kentucky did not always respond well to its stiffest challenge in more than a month. UK shot more than a few questionable shots down the stretch. The Cats also made just eight of 19 free throws in the second half.
But leading scorer Tony Delk made two free throws with 11 seconds left to clinch the victory. The foul shots completed a brilliant 29-point night that moved Delk past Louie Dampier and into ninth place on Kentucky's all-time scoring list with 1,577 points.
"Tonight we needed a strong game (from Delk) because this wasn't our 'A' game," Pitino said. "Because of Georgia's defense. They really got after the ball."
Kentucky also got a lift from sophomore Allen Edwards. Twice in the final five minutes, when Georgia closed to within one point, Edwards hit shots as improbable as they were timely.
"They were kind of circus shots," Delk said, admiringly.
The first was a high-arching driving flip over two Georgia defenders. It gave UK a 73-70 lead with 4:15 left.
"I guess it was pretty much a circus shot," Edwards said. "You've got to take a shot like that with someone like (6-foot-10) Terrell Bell coming at you."
When the shot swished, "I was surprised at first," Edwards admitted. "I didn't see it go in. I thought someone had tipped it in."
Edwards' second basket came 24 seconds later with the lead down to 73-72. The heavily contested leaner in the lane, plus a free throw on the foul, gave Kentucky a working margin.
"If not for some great play by Allen Edwards down the stretch on offense and defense, we might have lost the game," Pitino said.
Fueled by a sellout crowd of 10,523 and the urgency created by losses in three of its last four games, Georgia played hard from beginning to end. The Bulldogs also showed character, persevering despite trailing by 16 points late in the first half and by as many as 14 four minutes into the second half.
"We're over-achieving," first-year coach Tubby Smith said. "The guys played with all their heart and soul."
Georgia tied it with more than eight minutes left, but the Bulldogs' own wobbles helped UK hold on and prevented Smith from being satisfied in playing Kentucky close. UK had won its first five Southeastern Conference games by an average of 25.2 points.
"I wish I could say (a close margin provided satisfaction)," Smith said. "I just didn't think we played well down the stretch. We had a lot of opportunities. So I can't say I got much satisfaction from playing (UK) close."
UK improved to 16-1 overall and 6-0 in the SEC. The victory was the Cats' 15th straight, matching the school's longest winning streak since Rupp's Runts ran off 23 straight in 1965-66.
Georgia, which lost in "The Tub" for the first time in eight games, fell to 11-5 overall and 2-4 in the SEC.
Delk's 17 first-half points helped Kentucky take a 46-36 lead at intermission. Once again, the senior guard showed his versatility. He hit three three-pointers. He posted up Georgia freshman Ray Harrison. He even drove the baseline and threw down a take-that reverse dunk.
"He comes up big every time," the Georgia coach said. "That's why he's an All-American."
Unlike his school record nine three-pointers against Texas Christian Saturday, Delk's offense did more than serve as a conversation piece. UK needed his points against Georgia.
Kentucky fell behind by four early before coming back to seemingly take charge. Derek Anderson hit a three-pointer with 12:40 left to give UK a 20-17 lead.
Kentucky tried to shake up Georgia with changing defenses. The Cats alternated man-to-man with zone alignments in the early going. But half-court trapping out of man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone defenses seemed to rattle the Bulldogs midway through the half.
Georgia, which committed 44 turnovers in two games against UK last season, didn't lose the ball in the first eight minutes. But the Bulldogs averaged a turnover a minute the rest of the half and finished with 22 for the game.
Kentucky extended its lead to as many as 16 points late in the half. Delk's post-up basket, his last of the half, put the Cats ahead 44-28 with 3:13 left.
Georgia mounted several charges in the second half, each bringing the long- awaited close-game test for the Cats.
"With so many blowouts, we needed a close game," Delk said. "And we came through."