ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Cliff Hawkins made sure Kentucky avoided the rarest of hat tricks.
Hawkins scored a career-high 23 points as the eighth-ranked Wildcats held off Georgia, 69-60, in a Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal game after losing twice to the Bulldogs in the regular season.
"We took this game personal," Hawkins said. "We really wanted to win this game."
Georgia (16-13) erased an 11-point deficit and appeared on the verge of becoming the first team to beat Kentucky three times in the same season since Tennessee in 1978-79.
Rashad Wright, who also scored 23 points for the Bulldogs, hit a 3-pointer to tie the contest, 52-52, with 5:35 left.
But the Wildcats (24-4) took control down the stretch as Hawkins' crucial 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining ignited an 8-0 spurt in 48 seconds that gave Kentucky a comfortable 64-55 cushion.
"I never really thought we gained control until the end," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It was the same M.O. as the other two games, but we won this time."
Spurred on by a huge contingent of Kentucky fans, the Wildcats improved to 14-2 at the Georgia Dome and 8-0 against Georgia in the SEC Tournament. They will play South Carolina in Saturday's semifinals.
"They're as talented as any team we've played all year long," Smith said of the Bulldogs. "I think they're a team that would do extremely well in the NCAAs."
Georgia made Kentucky sweat, holding the Wildcats to one basket in a six-minute span after Hawkins' 3-pointer provided a 49-38 cushion with 11:59 left.
The Bulldogs turned up their defensive pressure but an inability to hit foul shots hurt them badly as Georgia was just 6-of-16 from the line.
With the contest still tied, 52-52, Jonas Hayes had a chance to give the Bulldogs the lead, only to miss a pair from the line with 4:41 to play.
Despite the 13 losses, Georgia coach Dennis Felton still feels his team is worthy of an at-large berth.
"I've got plenty of hope," he said. "I think we have a powerful resume to consider. We've done nothing but improve all year long. We ended strong down the stretch."
Gerald Fitch scored 15 points and Kelenna Azubuike added 11 for Kentucky. Hayes, Chris Daniels and Damien Wilkins contributed 10 apiece for Georgia.