On Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs (14-5; 3-3) will attempt to do something that a visiting team hasn’t done in Rupp Arena since John Calipari took over the reigns at Kentucky – win.
Coach Cal’s Cats boast a 28-game winning streak in Lexington. At Kentucky (also known as “One and Done U”), they’ve taken the phrase “protect home court” to a whole new level.
Coincidentally, the last time the Wildcats dropped a game at Rupp was on March 4, 2009, to none other than the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Dawgs opened up SEC play this season with a thrilling 77-70 victory over the Cats in Stegeman Coliseum. Since that game, Georgia has won just two of their last five, and they have dropped a couple of heart-breakers in Athens against Tennessee and Florida. If the Dawgs hope to finish the season with a winning conference record, they will have to steal a game or two on the road.
Kentucky’s SEC schedule thus far has been a little less daunting than Georgia’s, with games against Auburn (0-6), LSU (2-3), Alabama (4-1) and South Carolina (3-2). The Cats did suffer a hiccup at Bama, losing 68-66. But other than that, they have cruised against rather inferior competition.
The Cats have had a week off since their 67-58 victory at South Carolina last Saturday, plenty of time to sit at home and stew about their upcoming game with Georgia.
Kentucky has four players scoring in double-figures in conference play – Terrance Jones, Brandon Knight, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb. Leading the way is freshman big Terrance Jones (the guy Calipari referred to as a “selfish mother******”), who is pacing the Cats with 21.4 ppg and 8.2 rpg in league games. Jones is a difficult match-up for Georgia’s Trey Thompkins because of his versatility – he can score the ball from inside and out (40% 3PT in SEC games).
Kentucky’s other freshman phenom is point guard Brandon Knight, who is peppering the SEC stat sheet with 15.8 ppg, 3.2 apg and 2.6 three-point field goals per game (at 43.3%). He is an extension of Coach Calipari on the court, and his floor leadership is what gets this Kentucky offense going.
If Georgia is going to bust-up Kentucky’s home winning streak, then they must shut down Brandon Knight (again). In the first meeting between these two teams, Gerald Robinson, Jr.’s defense on Knight was sensational, limiting him to just 10 points (his lowest output of the season in conference play), and not allowing him to connect on a single shot from outside the arc.
Robinson’s performance in the Florida game was probably his worst as a Bulldog. He finished the game with only 7 points (the least he’s scored in an SEC game this year), and he had more turnovers (6) and personal fouls (4) than assists (3).
Robinson must put the Florida game behind him, because his team is going to need him to dominate the frosh Knight on Saturday. GR2 scored 17 points and only committed 2 fouls when these two teams met in Athens – a similar performance this weekend would be perfect.
In their three SEC losses this season (Vandy, Tennessee, Florida), Georgia’s offense has looked a little too stagnant – almost robotic. With the way that Fox’s triangle offense is designed, either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes (whoever is in the game) receives the ball at the top of the key to begin the motion. Because neither of these players is a threat to score unless they are within five feet of the basket, their man can sag off and stay in the paint – making it nearly impossible to get the ball into Trey Thompkins on the block. Even if the ball does get down to Trey, the double-team can arrive that much quicker with the extra defender already in the paint.
Coach Fox has been blessed to have two very skilled offensive players at his disposal in Trey Thompkins and Gerald Robinson, Jr. Why not have a couple of variations in the offense that allow these two to play a little two-man game? If Robinson and Thompkins run a pick-and-roll from the wing position, good things will happen (just like they did for Florida’s Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton last Tuesday).
And of course, Georgia has to get better defensive rebounding from someone other than Thompkins. In the Florida game, Trey brought down 13 boards, 8 of which came on defense. Price and Barnes COMBINED for just 4 total defensive rebounds, enabling Florida’s bigs to clean-up on the offensive glass in the two overtimes. Both of these guys are big kids (6’8″ and 250+ lbs), and there is no excuse for the way that they got pushed around underneath by Florida’s forwards. Kentucky has a big frontline as well, and they are averaging nearly 14 offensive rebounds a game in the SEC. If Price and Barnes aren’t physical on Saturday, Kentucky’s bigs will have a field day on the offensive glass.
By losing on Tuesday, Georgia put themselves in a tight spot at 3-3 in the conference, with more road games (6) remaining than home games (4). Against Kentucky, the Dawgs will be facing the possibility of going below .500 in the league for the first time this season.
The good news is that Georgia is 2-0 this year when coming off of an SEC loss, and they are 4-1 in true road games. The Dawgs responded emphatically to their losses against Vanderbilt and Tennesse by blowing out the state of Mississippi (Ole Miss and Missy St).
I don’t expect Georgia to blow out Kentucky on Saturday (4pm on ESPN). The Cats will undoubtedly be looking to avenge their earlier loss to Georgia.
But I do think that the Dawgs will play with a lot of emotion in Rupp, and I expect to see a very strong effort from Coach Fox’s team.