Polarizing point guard Andrew Harrison could have used Kentucky's 69-58 victory over Georgia on Tuesday night to make a Shermanesque statement. Richard Sherman, that is.
Something to his ever-present critics like: How do you like me now?! Or don't you dare think (player X) can beat me!!
Alas, Harrison's buttoned-down, circumspect style bares no similarities to the brash Seattle Seahawks defensive back. After he simply saved Kentucky from its first defeat of the season, Harrison declined to bare such feelings, if they are there.
"I'm not really worried about what people say about me," he said. "I've heard it all. So I'm going to keep playing my game and playing with confidence. And, I guess, proving them wrong. Or whatever."
To belabor references to the Super Bowl, unlike the New England Patriots' footballs, fan blood pressure was inflated in Rupp Arena. Georgia, which fell behind by 10 points inside the first 10 minutes, out-scrapped the Cats as reflected in a 36-24 rebounding advantage.
Trailing by 18 early in the second half, Georgia steadily closed the margin. "We had guys decide at the half that they were going to grow up and lead on the floor," Georgia Coach Mark Fox said.
With the lead down to 63-58 and two loooong minutes remaining, UK called time and then went to Karl-Anthony Towns. He delivered a basket from the low-post. He finished with 15 points. Harrison looked to make the big shot — as he had earlier in the game — but two defenders cut him off. So he passed to Towns.
"It was my time," Towns said in a nod to UK's seemingly inexhaustible options at any given moment.
Georgia was wise to contain Harrison at this moment. Again and again, he hit big shots (a season-high 23 points) or made big passes (seven assists, one shy of a season high).
"Just the flow of the game," he said of his clutch baskets. "They guarded all my teammates, and they left me a shot I can make, so I just took it."
UK Coach John Calipari noted how assistant Kenny Payne had gotten the point guard to use his legs more when shooting. Harrison credited his father, Aaron Harrison Sr., who had been working with him the last two days. Andrew made a career-high eight shots.
"He's the greatest guy in the world," Harrison said of his father. "(The elder Harrison) told me to keep being aggressive. Make sure you realize what you can do on the basketball court, and just do it."
Kentucky improved to 22-0, which was one game short of the program's second-best start to a season (Rupp's Runts won their first 23 games). The Cats improved to 9-0 in the faint memory of a Southeastern Conference race.
Georgia, which failed to beat a No. 1 team for the 15th time in 15 tries, fell to 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the SEC.
Thanks to effort, Georgia did not wilt despite playing without leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton.
Kentucky led before Georgia got the ball across halfcourt. The lead grew to 6-1 before a Georgia shot hit the rim. The margin hit double digits before Georgia made a basket.
Georgia, which trailed 42-27 at halftime, compensated on the offensive end for the loss of Thornton. Sophomore Houston Kessler, the son of former Georgia player Chad Kessler and the nephew of the late Alec Kessler, scored his career-high seven points in the first half. He had scored 14 points all season. Freshman Yante Maten also scored a career high (13).
Georgia, which averaged 14 turnovers against SEC teams, committed 12 in the first half.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Andrew Harrison, who had a team-high 12 points in the first half, gave Kentucky 17-point leads.
The second half was no breeze to victory.
A three-pointer by Andrew Harrison grew UK's lead to 47-29 with 18:26 left. But Georgia kept competing. A 29-14 rebounding edge through the game's first 27 minutes helped.
When the Bulldogs scored on four straight possessions, the lead dwindled to 51-42. More than 14 minutes remained. Fittingly, a putback reduced UK's lead to single digits for the first time since the 4:35 mark of the first half.
A pull-up jumper by Andrew Harrison alleviated the growing uneasiness, put UK ahead 53-42 and gave the UK point guard a season-high 17 points with 12:54 left.
Georgia closed within 60-54 as the tension mounted and the fans cried for calls ("He double-dribbled!!!!").
Andrew Harrison again came to the rescue. His driving, left-handed layup eased anxiety.
Calipari had a nit to pick. Harrison drove at times only trying to get a foul call.
"They give him no fouls, so he's got to stop that," Calipari said. "Other than that, wow."