Even though Georgia led Kentucky for nearly 60% of the game, the whole time I kept waiting for that Kentucky run. I knew it was coming. Just like last year, when UGA jumped out to a 19-5 lead in Rupp before losing in overtime. Or in Athens last year when the Dawgs were up 64-61 with a little over 5 minutes left only to lose 82-77. In 2016, Georgia saw its 62-54 advantage evaporate over the final 13 minutes and turn into a 93-80 Wildcat win. In 2015, UGA was up by 6 with over 5 minutes to go in Athens before Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns took over and willed Kentucky to the 72-64 victory.
Depressed yet? If so, that’s ok. You should be. When it comes to Kentucky, Georgia continues to be ever so close, but they just can’t seem to get over the hump and figure out a way to keep the lead until the clock hits zero.
As far as Kentucky teams go, this one doesn’t seem as gifted as the ones of years past. Sure, they have three guys that are projected to go in the first round of next year’s NBA draft. But, they don’t have a De’Aaron Fox. Or a Malik Monk. Or: Julius Randle, Eric Bledsoe, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, John Wall…This year’s Kentucky team doesn’t seem to have a guy who can absolutely take over a ball game whenever he wants. That player might emerge as the season progresses, but they aren’t there yet.
This was a winnable game for Georgia, yet they didn’t win. Should the Dawgs be satisfied with another moral victory against Coach Cal as they have in years past? I don’t know.
Here’s what happened:
Georgia’s effort on defense last night was nothing short of relentless. Coach Fox kept his team in man-to-man for the majority of the game, sprinkling in some zone occasionally just to give the Cats some different looks. The Dawgs did an excellent job of staying in front of the opposition and closing out on shots. Kentucky had only 6 field goals at the half. On the night, the Cats shot only 31% from the floor.
The only time in this contest when UGA’s defense softened up a bit was down the final stretch when Kentucky went 5 of 5 from the floor over the last 4 minutes of play. Both Alexander-Gilgeous and Wenyen Gabriel hit wide open three-pointers, and Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Gilgeous all got into the lane for fairly easy layups. Alexander-Gilgeous finished the game with 21 points, but only two other Cats ended up in double-figures: Quade Green (15pts) and Diallo (10pts).
Georgia’s frontcourt flexed its muscles in Rupp Arena on Sunday evening as Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds scored 17, 13, and 12 points, respectively. Maten also tallied 12 rebounds en route to another double-double. The Dawgs scored 34 points in paint against Kentucky, and those three mentioned above accounted for 42 of the team’s 61 points.
The only problem is that this was exactly what Coach Cal had game-planned: make the UGA guards beat them. The Cats showed Georgia full-court pressure often, and even in the half court set the Kentucky guards were picking the UGA guards up as soon as they crossed the line. The whole night the Georgia guards struggled to set up the Dawgs’ offense because they were constantly being forced to handle the ball well beyond the three-point line.
Turtle Jackson picked up 2 fouls in the first half and had to sit for nearly 13 minutes, and then he got tabbed for his 4th foul with almost 14 minutes left and Georgia up 42-35. While Turtle is not the most deft ball-handler, he brings a calming presence to the Dawgs’ offense, and it’s quite noticeable when he’s not on the court.
With Turtle out, the Dawgs had to turn to Tyree Crump and Teshaun Hightower to run the UGA offense and that did not go so well. Crump had a particularly off night, shooting just 1 of 9 from the floor and committing two costly turnovers that both led to Kentucky points. Hightower missed both his shots, which came from beyond the arc (where he is now 1 of 13 on the year), and turned the ball over once himself in just 5 minutes of play.
The Dawgs had 5 turnovers as a team over the 5 minutes from when they held that 42-35 advantage, and with 8:03 remaining Kentucky took a 47-46 lead following a layup by Diallo.
UGA had 15 turnovers on the night and those turned into 19 Wildcat points.
-Juwan Parker had a really nice old-fashioned three-point play in the second half to give UGA a 42-34 advantage with over 14 minutes left. He committed a turnover a minute later and was buried on the bench by Fox for nearly the remainder of the game (he back in with 28 seconds left and the game basically over). In lieu of Parker, Fox went with Jordan Harris, who went 1 for 3 from the floor, grabbed 3 rebounds and committed 2 turnovers. Neither Parker nor Harris is particularly strong on the perimeter defensively. This certainly wasn’t Parker’s finest game as a Bulldog (5 points), but I don’t think he deserved 17 minutes to Harris’s 21 minutes, and it might have been nice to have a senior on the court while Kentucky was putting together its final run. As far as Harris is concerned, I expected more growth from year 1 to year 2 from him considering he was a 4-star recruit, and so far I haven’t seen it.
-Georgia shot 21 free throws to Kentucky’s 38, although, when you play in Rupp Arena that’s kind of to be expected. The Cats got 14 more points from the charity stripe than UGA in a game that was decided by just 5 points.
-Yante Maten, who struggled to get to 17 points on a 5 for 15 performance from the floor, has to be frustrated with this loss as he is still winless against the Cats for his career and he may not get another crack at them unless they run into Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. Honestly, I feel for Maten. It has to be irritating to lose to a new group of freshmen every year.
This loss doesn’t hurt the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Georgia still has a chance to put together a really nice season. But they have to get over it quickly because Ole Miss will be in Stegeman on Wednesday night looking for its second conference win.