Dawgs battling history of losing against Wildcats

If this is to be a season that surpasses expectations for Georgia, it would be difficult to find a better way to make that point than to win at Kentucky.

Consider the recent history: Kentucky owns 16 straight wins over Georgia.

That streak covers four Georgia coaches — Hugh Durham, Tubby Smith, Ron Jirsa and Jim Harrick.

Consider the ancient history: Georgia is 2-50 all-time in Lexington, Ky., including only one win at Rupp Arena. Overall, Georgia is 17-99 in the series.

Now consider that while Kentucky was a popular preseason pick to contend for a Final Four berth, Georgia was expected to finish near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

"I've watched Kentucky about three times this year and they are just a tremendous basketball team,'' said Harrick, 0-4 against the Wildcats in his first two seasons in Athens. "Tayshaun Prince is playing like the Player of the Year in the conference he was last year, with much more confidence than he was playing with at this time last year.''

Added Harrick: "Kentucky is one of the real fine teams in America that could go all the way and win it all.''

It matters little that Georgia brings a 12-2 overall and 1-0 SEC record into tonight's game at Rupp, while Kentucky is 9-3 and 0-1.

Led by Prince, a smooth 6-9 senior, the Wildcats are No. 8 in the nation while Georgia is unranked. There is no question Kentucky is favored to extend a winning streak against the Bulldogs that dates back to 1994.

Under Durham, Georgia took a 94-90 overtime home victory over Kentucky early in the 1994 season before losing at Kentucky later in the year — the first of the 16 straight losses to the Wildcats.

In his two years at Georgia, Tubby Smith was 0-5 against Kentucky. Now Smith is in his fifth season at Kentucky, where he has posted a 119-36 record.

Coming off a big intrastate victory over Rick Pitino and Louisville last week, Kentucky led Mississippi State 21-2 on Saturday before State rallied for the 74-69 win in Starkville, Miss.

Smith admits the upset loss to Mississippi State left his players "shell-shocked.''

"We got beat when I thought our players let our guards down some,'' Smith said. "... We sort of lost our focus there.''

That upset loss will have the Wildcats hungry and focused for tonight's game.

"They'll come out trying to smash us in because they're highly ranked and they lost their last one,'' said Georgia point guard Rashad Wright.

Georgia won its SEC opener over Vanderbilt, 82-69, on Saturday but is still regaining its momentum after a long Christmas break. Twins Jarvis and Jonas Hayes are still returning to form after suffering knee and finger injuries, respectively.

Georgia has its best record after 14 games since 1997 — when Smith guided the Bulldogs to 24 wins.

"I like our team,'' Harrick said. "I like where we are. I like the way we've played. ... On a given night, we can be very difficult to beat.''

Georgia beat Vanderbilt even as its top two scorers, Ezra Williams and Jarvis Hayes, combined to make only 7 of 24 shots from the field.

If Williams or Hayes can match the outside scoring of Kentucky's Keith Bogans and Chris Daniels can contain Prince, then Georgia may be able to keep pace with the Wildcats.

Georgia returns to Athens for another key SEC Eastern Division game Saturday night against Tennessee.

Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.

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