On Tuesday evening, the Kentucky basketball program traveled to Athens, GA to take on the Georgia Bulldogs for its first true road trip of the season, and walked away victorious.
Tyrese Maxey and Nick Richards were the stars of the show, Ashton Hagans fought through an ankle injury to play 36 minutes, and Immanuel Quickley had several momentum-shifting jumpers, among other key moments of the victory.
But what else do you need to know about Kentucky’s first true road game?
Check out some of the top takeaways from KSR’s trip to Athens:
One hell of a test drive
After weeks of viewing what seemed to be every available vehicle in the state of Kentucky during the car-buying process, I finally agreed to a deal on a Dodge Ram 1500 at Conway Heaton in Bardstown on Monday afternoon.
After finishing up some dealer maintenance overnight, I picked up my truck on Tuesday morning, put the key in the ignition, and drove it seven hours south toward Athens to see the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Georgia Bulldogs.
Luckily, I made it there and back without any hiccups, but I’d be lying if I said my journey wasn’t a wee bit stressful and hectic.
Now on to the actual game.
Stegeman Coliseum was ROCKING
After leaving at 11:15 a.m. or so, I made it down to Athens at roughly 6:45 p.m. Checked into the hotel, listened to the KSR Pregame Show for a bit, and then headed straight to the arena.
When I made it to Stegeman Coliseum with roughly 90 minutes to tip-off, there was a line wrapped around the building with Georgia fans waiting to get inside. And once I fought through a sea of red to get to the entrance, the crowd inside was just as impressive.
With 30 minutes or so to go until tip, the arena was full from top to bottom, with fans showering the Georgia players warming up on the floor with cheers. Like we see at Rupp Arena prior to big games, they also had some special pregame light effects and showed an updated Kentucky-specific highlight reel to get the crowd pumped up.
And they certainly came through.
After every basket and defensive stop, the crowd erupted. And in turn, the Georgia players fed off the energy and turned in a pretty darn impressive first half. After a few rim-shaking dunks and step-back threes, there were several moments that led me to believe the crowd was going to help lead the Bulldogs to a blowout victory.
Their on-court celebrations ultimately backfired, but the fans certainly did their part.
… but the Big Blue Nation still showed out
As crazy and impressive Georgia’s fan support was on Tuesday evening, the Big Blue Nation somehow managed to make a dent in their home-court advantage efforts.
While the big Georgia runs, specifically in the first half, led to deafening cheers throughout Stegeman Arena, Kentucky fans still made sure their voices were heard. In the midst of a second-half comeback effort, Immanuel Quickley drilled a massive 3-pointer with 8:09 to go to give the Wildcats a 58-57 lead, their first since the 8:29 mark in the first half.
Immediately, the Kentucky faithful began a “Go Big Blue!” chant, one that echoed throughout the arena.
They were down in numbers, but they managed to compensate with louder cheers. Georgia fans attempted to drown out the chants with boos, but it simply didn’t work. As Kentucky’s on-court success grew, so did the small-yet-impactful fan support.
Following the “Go Big Blue!” chant, the Wildcats never trailed again, pushing the one-point lead to as many as 11 in the game’s final minutes. The team’s eight-point deficit in the second half turned into a nine-point victory.
Well done, Big Blue Nation.
It wasn’t just casual fans lining the stands in the sold-out Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday night. We also got to see several high-profile celebrities in attendance.
The biggest names? Rapper Quavo and NBA star Trae Young, who sat courtside.
Trae Young and Quavo are sitting courtside for Kentucky vs Georgia ??
— BBN Polls ?? (@BBNPolls) January 8, 2020
The celebrities extended to big-name media figures, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was also in attendance to see top-five NBA Draft prospect Anthony Edwards take on fellow lottery prospect Tyrese Maxey go head-to-head.
And yes, I fanboyed a bit.
Sources tell KSR that @wojespn is in the house for Kentucky vs. Georgia.
(Source: me) pic.twitter.com/4AOJBHC02U
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) January 8, 2020
While I didn’t get specific names, there were also several NBA scouts and personnel representing their respective franchises courtside and up on press row.
Needless to say, Edwards vs. Maxey was must-see TV (in person?).
Tom Crean was an hour late to his press conference
At Kentucky games, the postgame media opportunities are relatively straight forward. The game ends, coaches and players have a cool-down period (which allows us to get down to the press conference area), opposing coach and players come out, John Calipari then comes out, and then we wait for 10-15 minutes for the Kentucky players to get changed and come out.
In Athens, we got Calipari almost right away, followed by a media opportunity with Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley outside the Kentucky locker room not long after. While the UK players talked, the Georgia media members spoke to Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds at the podium.
From there, the wait game ensued, as media members from both sides waited in the press conference area for the final interview of the night: Tom Crean.
As the clock struck midnight, the Georgia head coach finally walked in and discussed his team’s loss with those who hadn’t left and/or fallen asleep in their chairs. He quickly apologized for being late, adding that he was forced to attend two separate postgame meetings.
It ended up being fine and Crean provided thoughtful responses, but the Georgia media members were quite frustrated in the delay.
In terms of overall team play, I couldn’t have been more impressed with Kentucky’s ability to fight through the noise and pull off a victory in a hostile road environment against a fairly talented SEC foe.
Say what you want about Crean or the Georgia basketball program as a whole, but they’re fielding a team capable of making the NCAA Tournament led by a consensus top-five NBA Draft pick. Coming off a massive road victory over Memphis, the program couldn’t have been more amped for a home matchup against Calipari and the No. 14 Wildcats.
For a team that fell to Evansville earlier in the year, came away winless on their trip to Las Vegas, and struggled against mediocre competition time and time again throughout the non-conference schedule, this victory and how it came to fruition was a massive step forward. Down by nine in the final seconds of the first half, Kentucky could have folded and walked away with their heads down. Instead, they fought back, overcame adversity (missed free throws, early deficit, etc.) and pulled off a convincing nine-point win.
Kentucky’s first true road victory came against Louisville at the Yum! Center last year, and it was a win that proved to be a pivotal one for overall team growth. Momentum shifted on the year and they wound up becoming a title contender to close out the season.
What will the Georgia victory mean for this current group?
Ashton Hagans is a warrior
To close this thing out, we need to give a tip of the cap to Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans.
After a back-and-forth regarding his availability for two days, Hagans ultimately decided to play through the left ankle injury he suffered against Missouri on Saturday. He looked uncomfortable at times and had to change his shoes after the first TV timeout, but the Wildcat point guard still gave it his all from start to finish.
After the game, Hagans left the locker room with a visible limp and a boot on his left leg. It’s obvious the adrenaline of returning home to play in front of friends and family had died down and the pain was settling in.
But none of it mattered.
“I’m sure he was going to be fine no matter what,” Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley said of Hagans’ injury and his status for Tuesday evening. “If he would’ve fallen off a bridge, he was still playing in this game. It didn’t matter what happened to him. Being back home, you always want to show out for your home [crowd].”
Warrior. Absolute warrior.