Georgia was not willing to let down against the highly ranked Wildcats. Kentucky, which lost to Georgia 65-57 earlier this season in Lexington, was playing a physical game the whole way through. After Georgia went on a 13-4 run to take the lead for the first time in the half both teams got even more physical and also got into a jawing match with one another before the first TV timeout of the second half.
Kentucky put together its traditional run in the 2nd half but Georgia was able to combat it with a Rashad Wright's only three pointer of the game. In fact it was Wright's only field goal of the game. The rest of his 14 points came from free throws.
Today's game looked like a sellout but only because of Kentucky fans filling up many of the seats that often go empty. Still, the program must have looked good on national television because most if not all of the UK fans were in the upper sections of the Stegosaurus.
Speaking of the fans, they were NOT pleased with the officiating today. The play was rough which, as always, is a result of the officials not calling fouls early. The refs let the play get rough and then seemed surprised that both teams were getting after one another.
"I thought that the officials got it under control after a while," said Kentucky's Tubby Smith.
Dennis Felton was forced to go to his bench late in the game because Jonas Hayes and Daniels were both in foul trouble. Steve Newman and Sikes were the two players that we forced into action as a result. With about 5 minutes left to go Felton had three freshmen in the lineup.
That is not what he wanted to do: "With the foul trouble I could have gone to a zone," said Felton. But the head coach, who complemented the play of the bench today, said that he was not willing to move out of the zone.
"I felt like we would have lost our aggression if we got out of the man to man," he said.
Wright impresses again – Rashad Wright was given a very impressive complement today by Smith. "He is the best point guard around here," he said. "He was giving up problems the whole day today."
Wright was having a difficult time shooting the ball today. Although Felton thought that "every shot that he put up tonight looked like it was going in," Felton said that he game planned to use Wright's defense against the Cats.
"We used Rashad to get our defense started. I needed him to be our number one defender today. His defensive pressure was very important today," said Felton.
I much as I have criticized Levi Stukes during the season I must say that today he played like a champion. His shooting as well has toughness kept Georgia in the game on many occasions. He could have easily quit under the pressure of Kentucky but did not; he gets my game ball.
Stukes, who went one for seven in the first half, was on fire during the second half. He hit three of his five field goals; all three were three point shots.
"We got into him after the first half," said Felton. "We have to have him to win. I didn't like his body language in the locker room at the half. We needed him to step up for us in the second half and he was limping in the locker room. I told him to get rid of the drama and play."
Why is it that Dennis Felton has so much success against Kentucky? He is now 3-0 against Kentucky and probably won't play the Cats again until 2004. He gave a simple reason for his success against the Cats: "We just match up well with them," he said. "We are similar in size with them."
Georgia out-rebounded Kentucky by three today.
But Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said that its not just the match up that makes Georgia play great against his Cats; Georgia scares his players, too.
"They are aggressive and physical," said the former head coach. "They hit your hard when they blockout. It was like our guys didn't know what to do with the ball around the basket. We were running away from it. They scared our post players today."
"I didn't think that we intimidated them," said Felton. "It became a hard fought battle; no one was intimidated."
"CBS owes me one," said Felton of being the first NCAA coach ever to wear a microphone during a game. "I didn't want to do it but I guess that it turned out ok."
Georgia representatives explained to me after the game that CBS was trying to impress the NCAA in hopes that they could "mike up" coaches for the final for. CBS's representative at the game explained to me that the network had negotiations for a few weeks with the NCAA in order to get permission to place a microphone on Felton's tie for the game.
This game showed two different things: 1. Georgia needs to somehow develop depth before the SEC tournament. 2. Georgia can beat the best teams in the country; they have proven that on several occasions this season.
The problem for Georgia is that they are not able to string together consecutive big games. Georgia is now 4-7 in the SEC with 5 games remaining. Believe it or not even the pessimistic press corps was trying to line up the games to determine if Georgia could still get into the NCAAs. They determined that Georgia would probably get in with an 8-8 SEC record and would stand a chance if they went 7-9 in the conference.
The Dawgs' two most difficult games remaining are at Columbia and at Gainesville. Many in the press have already written off Georgia's chances in Columbia, perhaps rightfully so. Georgia has struggled mightily at Carolina since the Cocks joined the SEC. Georgia will have to win at least one of those two games to get into the NCAAs. In fact, if Georgia slips up at all at home over the next few weeks against Florida, Tennessee, or Vanderbilt then they will need to win both. Georgia can get to the NCAAs; its up to them to keep the intensity up enough for the rest of the season to get there.