Levi Stukes bounced back from a miserable first half to finish with 12 points -- all on 3-pointers -- and the Bulldogs completed a season sweep of No. 8 Kentucky with a 74-68 victory Saturday.
Jonas Hayes had 19 points and Rashad Wright and Damien Wilkins each added 14 for the Bulldogs (12-10, 4-7 Southeastern Conference), who beat the Wildcats 65-57 earlier this season.
"This is just a little part of what we're trying to do," Hayes said. "This is just a step in our ultimate goal of getting back to the NCAA Tournament."
First-year Georgia coach Dennis Felton improved to 3-0 in his career against Kentucky, including one win when he was at Western Kentucky.
The Bulldogs completed their second sweep of Kentucky in three years. Like most programs in the SEC, they don't have much success against the Wildcats -- they're 21-101 all-time -- and they won consecutive games for only the sixth time since the series started in 1921.
But Hayes and Wright have been a part of two of those teams, and they have also won two of the past three games in Rupp Arena. Georgia has only one other victory on that court.
"Their intentions and effort and willingness have been very much appreciated by me," Felton said of his senior class. "They have never shown any unwillingness to this team with all they could muster."
The Wildcats (17-4, 7-3) clearly missed leading scorer Gerald Fitch, who sat out his third straight game with a sprained right index finger. They committed 22 turnovers, including five by reserve guards Josh Carrier and Brandon Stockton, and shot only 41 percent in the second half.
Kelenna Azubuike had a career-high 23 points and Cliff Hawkins added 16 for Kentucky. But Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes, the team's second- and third-leading scorers, combined for only 13 points.
"We can't win when Chuck is missing layups like that," Wildcats coach Tubby Smith said. "It was just ridiculous. And Erik was just running around scared to death. He wonders why we didn't get him the ball."
Stukes struggled like most of his teammates in the opening half, shooting 1-for-7. In the half, Georgia shot 31 percent, including 5-for-5 from Hayes.
But the Bulldogs trailed by only eight, thanks mostly to the miscues by Kentucky. They had a 13-2 run early in the second half -- a spurt started by a three-point play by Hayes -- and forced Smith to call a timeout.
Finally, Georgia started making shots. Stukes hit a 3 and Marcus Sikes followed with a long jumper, his first basket of the game. After Hayes missed for the first time in the game, he got the ball back and hit a turnaround to cut the lead to one.
"Coach told me I was shooting with my feet not set in the first half," Stukes said. "So that gave me confidence to come out in the second half and starting making shots. I just made sure I set my feet and stayed with it."
The Wildcats turned it over on their next trip up the court, and Wilkins drove inside for a leaner to give the Bulldogs their first lead, 36-35.
The teams swapped the lead three times over the next several minutes, and Kentucky went ahead for the final time on a jumper by Azubuike with 11:45 left.
Sikes then was fouled on a 3-pointer, and made all three free throws to put Georgia on top for good.
"We just have to be able to step up and make plays," Azubuike said. "We let them push us around in the second half, and we never really answered their intensity."
Hawkins committed his third foul with 13:58 left and sat down for 4½ minutes. That forced Smith to go to Stockton, who had not played in four of the previous six games.
His inexperience quickly showed, as he dribbled the ball off his leg on his first offensive possession.
"You've got to be able to take care of the ball," Smith said. "You're a Division I player, or at least, you're supposed to be a Division I player."
Georgia took its largest lead on a miraculous tip-in by Wilkins that made it 65-56 with 1:23 left.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2004, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved