ATHENS, Ga. – When it was unable to pull away from a short-handed Georgia team, Kentucky turned to freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox — again and again.
Fox scored 16 points, including six free throws in the final 45 seconds, and No. 13 Kentucky overcame J.J. Frazier’s 36 points to beat Georgia 82-77 on Saturday night.
“I just want people to know I can step up in the big moments,” Fox said.
Frazier’s season-high effort helped keep Georgia close after the Bulldogs lost top scorer Yante Maten with a right knee injury less than two minutes into the game. Coach Mark Fox said the injury was “significant.”
Malik Monk also had 16 for Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 Southeastern Conference). The Wildcats began the night tied with Florida for the SEC lead.
De’Aaron Fox did more than make free throws. He twice scored tying baskets on layups in the final 2:07.
“I just made big plays in big moments,” Fox said.
Georgia’s last lead was 75-73 before Fox made two free throws with 44 seconds remaining. Following a miss by Georgia’s Pape Diatta, Fox again made two free throws for a 77-75 lead. Frazier missed a short jumper before Fox pushed the lead to four points with two more free throws.
“We were lucky to get out alive, literally lucky to win the game,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who added “Let’s be real. Maten was out.”
Maten hurt his knee when defending a layup by Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe. Maten rose to his feet but was unable to put weight on the leg, forcing him to hop off the court with help from trainers. He was escorted to the locker room before returning to the bench where he watched the remainder of the game.
It was a crushing loss for Georgia (15-12, 6-8), which pushed the Wildcats to overtime in 90-81 loss at Kentucky on Jan. 31.
“I’m proud of my teammates,” Frazier said. “They gave me everything they had, and I gave them everything I had. We just came up short.”
Kentucky: With their eighth straight win over Georgia, the Wildcats’ lopsided lead in the series grew to 123-26. That includes a 42-17 advantage in games played in Athens. … Adebayo had 13 points and eight rebounds. … Kentucky took a 41-26 advantage in rebounds. Derek Willis had 12 rebounds.
Georgia: Frazier finished one point away from matching his career high of 37 points against Mississippi State on Dec. 4, 2015. … E’Torrion Wilridge, a sophomore, had two points and four turnovers in his second straight start — and second of his career. … Mike Edwards, who started the second half at Maten’s power forward spot, and Monk were called for double technical fouls early in the second half. … Ogbeide had 11 rebounds before fouling out.
MATEN TO HAVE TESTS
Tests will determine the severity of the injury to Maten, who had a wrap on the knee when he returned to the bench. Maten stood to join his teammates in huddles but couldn’t put his full weight on the leg.
“Obviously it’s a significant injury but we really won’t know until we get the images,” Mark Fox said.
Maten is averaging 19.4 points, third in the SEC, and 7.2 rebounds.
Kentucky has regained its momentum after losing two straight in late January to fall out of the Top 10 for the first time this season. The Wildcats have won four straight and after falling as low as No. 15 and are on a path back to the Top 10.
LOBBYING FOR A PEER
When the Bulldogs lost a chance for a signature win, Mark Fox lost a chance to bolster his stock in an important year. Perhaps anticipating more heat on his peer, Calipari made a long speech about “what bothers me about the profession” and said Fox deserved credit for keeping his team in the game after Maten’s injury. “Again, that’s what kind of coach he is.”
Kentucky: Visits Missouri on Tuesday night.
Georgia: Visits Alabama on Thursday night.