Georgia keeps bursting bubbles, beats Kentucky 72-62

Georgia headed to a timeout after Kyle Wiltjer hit a three-pointer that cut the UGA lead to 50-47 with 7:47 left in the game. For the first time Thursday night, the Kentucky faithful were on their feet making noise in Athens. The Dawgs had held a 10-point advantage over the Wildcats a little over a minute before this break in the action, but that lead had been cut down to just a possession ball game.

This moment was the exact point in the game when Georgia was supposed to crumple under the pressure of this furious Kentucky onslaught.

Unfortunately for the Cats, Georgia chose to respond, reeling off 12 straight points and opening up a 62-47 advantage with less than four minutes remaining. Georgia would go on to win from here 72-62, possibly putting an end to Kentucky’s NCAA hopes.

UGA’s team defense was tenacious on Thursday, holding the Cats to only 37% from the floor and just 62 points.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 6 points during Georgia’s critical 12-point run, finished the game with 24 points and 10 boards for his sixth double-double of the season.

While KCP was once again the floor general for the Dawgs, Coach Mark Fox received magnificent play from both Donte Williams and Nemanja Djurisic.

Williams, who was a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line for the first time in his young life, contributed 10 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Donte played extremely strong inside for his team tonight, and his ability to make free throws may have been the difference in the game.

Neme snagged 6 boards himself, and he also netted 12 points, including a pair of monster three-pointers in the second half that helped UGA preserve their lead over Kentucky.

Credit Mark Fox for the turn around that this team has undergone right before our eyes this season. Against Kentucky, UGA committed just 10 turnovers; over the past three games, Georgia has given the ball away only 28 times, which is a major improvement for a team that was leading the conference with over 18 turnovers a contest earlier in the year.

The Dawgs followed up the Tennessee win with another dominant effort, and at 9-8 in the SEC they will travel to Alabama on Saturday with a chance to challenge for the 7-seed in this year’s league tournament.

One thing is for sure, this team will be ready to make some noise in Nashville next week.

Georgia looks to burst Kentucky’s bubble in Athens

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the network’s NCAA Tournament guru, has Kentucky currently placed in his “First Four Out” portion of the field, which implies that the Wildcats are riding the NCAA “Bubble” hard. A loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on Thursday night in Athens could certainly put a major damper on the Cats’ postseason hopes, meaning Coach Calipari’s team will probably be treating this game similarly to a playoff match-up.

However, the stakes in tonight’s game are pretty high for the Dawgs as well, who need a win to keep pace with Tennessee (10-7), LSU (9-8) and Arkansas (9-8) if they hope to avoid the dreaded 8-/9-seed game in this year’s SEC Tournament (UGA is in the 9-spot at the moment).

Since losing “Mr. Do-Everything” – freshman Nerlens Noel – Cal’s team has mustered just a 3-3 conference record (if you include the Florida game in which Noel went down with the knee injury). Noel anchored the Kentucky defense, averaging 4.4 blocks and nearly 10 rebounds a game. Over the past five games without Noel, the Cats have allowed SEC opponents to score 70 or more points in four of those games, which is definitely concerning since Kentucky had only allowed three league teams to post 70 points or more over the previous ten games.

Coach Cal’s team has not been able to get it together away from Rupp without the services of their big man, dropping road games at Tennessee and Arkansas (last Saturday). If the Cats want to dance this March, they will have to find a way to sneak out of Stegeman with a win on Thursday.

Offensively, Kentucky’s scoring is extremely balanced, with five players averaging over 8 points per game. Leading the way is freshman guard Archie Goodwin, who is netting a team-best 12.1 points per SEC contest.

For Georgia, Thursday’s game against Kentucky gives the Dawgs another chance to even up their overall record, which currently rests at 14-15. In addition, a victory over the Cats would greatly help UGA in its attempts to jockey for a slightly higher seed than 8 in next week’s SEC Tournament.

With Kentucky’s athleticism, I would be surprised if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets many good looks at the basket in this one. Coach Mark Fox will need more aggressive point guard play from freshman Charles Mann, who is coming off a career-high 18 points against Tennessee in game in which he repeatedly attacked the rim off the dribble.

Las Vegas is giving Kentucky a 3.5-point edge in this one, which may provide UGA with a little extra fuel leading up to the game.

While nearly 10,000 people packed into the Steg to see Tennessee last Saturday, I anticipate a near-capacity crowd Thursday night in what should be the most prestigious home game of the season.

Hopefully Georgia is ready.