Kentucky’s 62-49 win over Georgia (18-15) marked the 4th time in 5 years that Big Blue Nation has eliminated UGA from the SEC tournament. Every one of those losses have prevented Georgia from earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. If an SEC team is on the bubble this time of year in March, a win over the Cats is an easy way to impress the committee. Unfortunately, Coach Mark Fox hasn’t found a way to get that done. His Georgia teams have never beaten Kentucky away from Athens. Coach Calipari is the proverbial hump that Fox just cannot seem to get over.
Is this a great Kentucky team that is destined to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? No. They only have two players that would be considered dangerous scoring threats: Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the outside (under 35% on triples). However, they are long and athletic, and yesterday, the Cats were determined to play defense for 40 minutes, which turned out to be more than UGA could handle.
Kentucky’s match-up zone gave Georgia fits. The Cats’ guards enforced their will upon the UGA backcourt, which resulted in Georgia having trouble getting into its sets since the offense was starting so far from the basket. The Dawgs struggled to get the ball inside to their bigs. Even when Yante Maten got touches, he was indecisive with the ball and allowed himself to be swarmed by Wildcat defenders. Yante was held under double-figures in scoring for just the second time this season as he managed only 9 points in the loss yesterday on a 2 of 10 shooting performance. Coach Calipari’s defensive scheme of taking away Maten worked so well that it didn’t even matter that his team couldn’t muster much on the offensive end. UGA shot 28% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc; the Dawgs chunked up 23 three-point attempts, which is not a good look for this Georgia team. UGA scored just 12 points in the paint to Kentucky’s 38; the Dawgs couldn’t find success on the block, so they settled for a multitude of perimeter shots. Game over.
The lone bright spot on offense for UGA was Tyree Crump, who snapped out of his recent shooting funk and knocked down 4 of his 8 three-point attempts en route to a career high 17 points. The other Georgia guards were far less effective: Turtle Jackson (2 for 12), Teshaun Hightower (0 for 6). If the UGA backcourt could have managed to knock down a few more three’s, it might have forced the Kentucky defense to pay less attention to Maten, but that’s been a running theme for the season.
Ultimately, Georgia is just not built to deal with a team of Kentucky’s caliber. This UGA team showed a lot of fight the past two days, especially in the second round upset of Missouri, but once again the Dawgs were no match for a more athletic bunch of Wildcats. UGA’s freshman simply do not resemble Kentucky’s; the Cats’ newbies are at a whole different level. As long as Calipari reigns supreme in Lexington, Georgia is not going to be able to match up with his teams’ athleticism. The only way UGA ever starts beating Kentucky is if they can get more shooters on the roster, because that is and always has been the great equalizer in college basketball. For some reason, though, the UGA basketball program cannot seem to figure that out.