ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s 76-62 win against Florida on Saturday was a big upset by any measure, but it’s not like the Bulldogs stole a win from the 12th-ranked Gators.
Not only did the Bulldogs never trail, they led even before the opening tipoff.
Gerald Robinson hit a pair of free throws before tipoff after the referees called an administrative technical foul on Florida’s Casey Prather for dunking during pregame warmups. It was a precursor of things to come, as Robinson and the Bulldogs (13-15, 4-10 SEC) would score with uncharacteristic efficiency throughout while the Gators (22-7, 10-4) regularly shot themselves in the foot.
“We just came determined to play and we wanted this win and we needed this win badly -- and this is the result,” said Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic, who replaced guard Dustin Ware in the starting lineup, allowing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to shift from small forward to shooting guard.
That lineup change seemed to give the Bulldogs a lift. Caldwell-Pope and Robinson started the game on a hot streak, scoring 21 points in the first half to help the Bulldogs shoot 54 percent from the floor and take a 36-27 lead at intermission.
Florida’s perimeter-based offense struggled at the same time, shooting 35 percent in the first half, including just 25 percent (3-for-12) from 3-point range -- typically the Gators’ specialty.
“We did adjust our lineup. I thought that was fairly effective for us,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We thought that would help us a little bit defensively.”
However, it was on the offensive end where Georgia was unusually effective. The Bulldogs shot 53 percent (27-for-51) from the field and held the Gators to 37 percent -- almost a 180-degree difference from the teams’ shooting performances in their first meeting, when the Gators won 70-48 in Gainesville.
“They played a lot harder than we did, especially on the defensive end,” said Florida guard Bradley Beal, who scored a game-high 19 points and had 12 rebounds. “It wasn’t great at all. We gave up a lot of threes, they were shooting a high percentage at halftime and then in the second half they got even hotter and started going on runs.”
Djurisic paced one such run in the second half, staving off a Florida rally by single-handedly scoring seven points, grabbing three rebounds and saving a ball as it was going out of bounds to end a Gator possession -- all in a two-minute stretch that helped Georgia push its lead back to 15 points.
“I was exhausted after those two minutes,” Djurisic said. “I saved the ball and the crowd got up and it was going in for me, so I got a couple rebound putbacks just from running and fighting inside and a great pass from [Robinson] leading to a 3. That brought us back in confidence and we didn’t let them fully come back.”
Georgia prevented a comeback despite Florida’s high-intensity effort in the closing minutes by getting production from a wider variety of players than normal.
Five Bulldogs scored in double figures -- the first time that has happened for Georgia in 45 games, since a win against Ole Miss in January 2011.
Caldwell-Pope led the way with 18 points, while Robinson had 15 points and seven assists and Djurisic added 12 points and seven rebounds. Ware and Donte Williams had 11 points apiece, with Ware contributing six assists and Williams six blocked shots.
“I can go down the line and I can actually think of something off the top of my head that everybody did today,” Robinson said. “Everybody chipped in. It was a full-team effort. I can’t say how proud I am of my guys.”
Even Florida coach Billy Donovan was complimentary of Georgia’s effort. The Bulldogs had lost three in a row and were decided underdogs against the Gators, but clearly outplayed a team that could have clinched a first-round bye in the SEC tournament with a victory.
“I told Mark after the game that I really appreciate the job he’s done because when you’re 3-10, you can get beaten down and lose your fight, but [Georgia] fights all the time -- not just tonight, they do it all the time,” Donovan said.
“I have a lot of respect for their team and their kids and I was happy for them. As a coach, just for the pureness of the game, I was really happy for their kids because that’s the way you’re supposed to play the game.”