ATHENS, Ga. — When Georgia Coach Mark Fox watched video of Kentucky in preparation for Saturday's game, he saw a winnable game.
"I didn't think we were totally outclassed," Fox said. "I thought we're better than we were a year ago. If we show up and play, we have a chance to win."
Georgia showed up. Georgia played. Georgia beat Kentucky 77-70 to validate its new-found status as a viable contender in the Southeastern Conference.
UK Coach John Calipari cited Georgia's physical play and willpower as the reason the Cats lost an SEC opener for the first time since 2006.
Never miss a local story.
"They wanted to win the game more than we did," he said, echoing a sporting cliché that was put on display in the season's first sellout in Stegeman Coliseum. "So they won."
Free-throw shooting for one team — and lack thereof for the other — seemed central to what unfolded.
Georgia, which came into the game ranked next to last among SEC teams in free-throw accuracy (62.2 percent), made 30 of 34. Calipari attributed that 88.2-percent accuracy to the inspiring notion of beating Kentucky.
"Every team is going to do this," he said. "This was one of their best games, if not the best game. That's everybody we play. If you're not ready for that, why did you come here? That's just how it is."
Kentucky (12-3) was also not ready for the physical nature of the game, which contributed to the Cats' 10-of-16 performance at the line.
"We make more than the other team shoots," Calipari said. "Today that flip-flopped."
UK players cried foul, as in too many non-calls.
"Every time we drove, they were bumping us," Doron Lamb said.
Seeking a clarification, a reporter asked if he meant "bumping" or "fouling?"
"You can say fouling," Lamb said. "But they don't want to hear that. Call it bumping."
Calipari called it a failure by Kentucky to play through the physical play and/or non-calls.
"Every time we drove it, they body-checked," the UK coach said. "They were hipping and pushing. We lost balls. We missed layups. We missed runners. We tried to throw our bodies into guys instead of just shooting."
Georgia's physical play was no accident. SEC Pre-season Player of the Year Trey Thompkins, who led the Dawgs with a game-high 25 points, noted the off-week his team had to prepare.
"We practiced it three days in a row," he said. "That Dribble-Drive is tough to guard."
The Cats trailed much of the afternoon, leading for only 1:28. The long uphill climb culminated with a three-point by Jones, which put UK ahead 56-55. Ten minutes remained.
"When it's tied, that's when you find out who's who," Calipari said. "...We had some guys lay an egg."
UK made 11 of 18 shots in the second half to inch ahead. Thereafter, the Cats made only four of 21, far too many being fadeaways to suit Calipari.
Georgia took control with less than five minutes left. The Dawgs made six of eight free throws to go ahead 64-59 with 3:14 left.
After Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson missed shots in the lane, Thompkins posted up for a score over Jones to put Georgia ahead 66-59. UK called time with 2:37 left to ponder a comeback.
For the first time since the Connecticut game on Maui, Kentucky faced a halftime deficit.
Georgia clearly outplayed the Cats in the first half en route to a 41-30 lead at intermission. That matched the Dawgs' largest first-half lead.
In its last three games, Kentucky scorched opponents in the second half: 81.8-percent shooting against Penn, 68.2 percent against Louisville and 74.1 percent against Coppin State.
Starting three juniors and a senior, Georgia believed it would not crumble.
"We said we were mature enough to play two halves," Fox said of the halftime rhetoric. "Mature enough to withstand the run we knew was coming. We should be able to win this game."
The Dawgs, who were picked by the media to finish third this year in the SEC Eastern Division, seemed poised to enter the national Top 25.
When asked whether Georgia was a top 25 team, Calipari said, "The way they played today, they were. They beat us. That score is not indicative of how bad they beat us."