Georgia's 68-62 win over Tennessee was a case of finding where the buck stopped Wednesday night. Not with Tennessee's defense, it turned out.
I was tempted to say the Vols lost the game in the opening minutes when they turned the ball over on six of their first eight possessions and fell behind 8-2.
But that's not quite true.
Tennessee rallied gamely in the second half to forge a 43-43 tie with plenty of time left. Finally, a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd reported for vocal duty.
So I want to say the Vols lost the game when they couldn't sustain the rally, coming up empty on six possessions, allowing the Bulldogs to re-establish a 52-43 lead.
But that's not quite true, either.
An offensive rebound and two ensuing free throws by Jarnell Stokes made it a one-point battle, 54-53 with 4:56 to play. Game on.
Finally, I've got to say that's when Tennessee lost the game.
Georgia, a team figured to do absolutely nothing in the SEC this winter, protected that 54-53 lead in a manner Duke or Louisville or Indiana — or a late-1960s UCLA — would have been proud to claim.
The Bulldogs, impervious to the Vols and a hostile crowd, converted tough shots on five consecutive possessions.
They could not, would not be denied.
The Vols needed a defensive stop and could not get one.
It helps to have a virtuoso like sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He produced three of Georgia's five game-saving baskets en route to a 24-point effort.
First he nailed a 3-pointer to make the one-point lead a four-point lead.
Tennessee answered with a Kenny Hall basket. Georgia's edge was 57-55. Again, a stop would do wonders.
But no. Vincent Williams, a 6-foot guard, drove the right side and lofted a prayer high over the reach of Stokes. A soft kiss off the glass rewarded Williams. Georgia, 59-55.
A Stokes free throw kept it a one-possession game but still that stop proved elusive. Deep into the shot clock, freshman guard Kenny Gaines stuck a 15-footer over 6-foot-9 Hall's extended arm to make it 61-56.
Stokes, enjoying an atypical fine night at the stripe, hit two free throws and, trailing 61-58, Tennessee again turned to its defense.
And Georgia again turned to Caldwell-Pope,
who shook free down the lane to drop in a floater for a 63-58 lead.
UT blinked on its turn and then Caldwell-Pope delivered the coups de grace, Georgia's 11th 3-pointer of the game.
At 66-58, whether the Vols could get either a basket or a stop was irrelevant.
"They did a good job finishing the game,'' said UT coach Cuonzo Martin.
So good that Georgia is looking like last year's Tennessee — the team that comes out of nowhere to make an unexpected run.
Georgia vs Tennessee, Feb. 6, 2013
Coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs have won five of their past six games and three straight on the road.
They won this game because when it came to the moment of truth, they would not be denied.
That's tough for Martin to swallow. He's building his program on the foundation of denial, that defense is commitment and pride.
This time, however, no Tennessee defender was able to say the buck stops here.