Cats' 2nd half run too much for Dawgs

ATHENS – In three minutes, 14 seconds Tuesday night in Stegeman Coliseum, some order was restored to a heretofore unpredictable Southeastern Conference.

Kentucky got its first conference victory and stuck Georgia (11-6, 1-3 SEC) back in the bottom of the Eastern Division with a 69-55 victory in front of 10,027 fans, but the gap is not as wide as it has been in the past.

The game had five lead changes in the first 23 minutes and settled into its sixth tie at 38-38 when Georgia guard Channing Toney dunked with 16:34 remaining. Kentucky, though, scored the next eight points and was up 46-38 with 12:57 remaining.

Georgia coach Dennis Felton blamed the collapse on his team's inexperience.

"They're finding out how quickly a game can change," he said.

The Bulldogs, who led much of the first half, shot just 32 percent from the floor, including 11 percent from behind the 3-point line, in the second half. The problem, most everyone wearing red and black agreed, was Georgia's young players panicked when Kentucky made its run and were too impatient on the offensive end.

"Everyone wants to hit that big shot," said freshman guard Mike Mercer, who led Georgia with 15 points. "We're down 10 points and everybody think they can hit a 10-pointer. We just have to calm down."

Kentucky (11-6, 1-2) avoided its first 0-3 league start since 1976 and its first four-game losing streak since the 1989-'90 season.

"It was a win that we needed," acknowledged Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who is in his ninth year in Lexington after two seasons as the Bulldog coach.

"We certainly played them at a time when they had the greatest sense of urgency you can have," Felton said.

Freshman Billy Humphrey and starting point guard Sundiata Gaines each had 13 points, but Humphrey squandered Georgia's best chance to get back in the game. He made a steal and turned it into a dramatic dunk to cut Kentucky's lead to 50-46 with 9:19 remaining but was called for a technical foul after pulling himself up on the rim and slapping the backboard after the dunk.

"Honestly, I didn't mean to pull up on the rim," he said. "I was just in the moment. I wanted to shift the momentum. It seemed like it ended up being a momentum shift for them so I apologize to my teammates."

Patrick Sparks made both technical free throws for Kentucky, which was back up by 10 points 48 seconds after Humphrey's dunk. Georgia made just two field goals after the play.

"That was a very, very pivotal point," Felton said. "Our youthfulness rose up again."

"It was a turning point, but everybody makes a mistake," Mercer said.

Mercer made a mistake of his own, which was caught by ESPN's cameras. With 12:29 left in the second half, he dunked and was fouled by former AAU teammate Randolph Morris. Television replays, which ESPN put on a countdown of top plays and is sure to show again and again today, clearly show Mercer hanging on the rim with one hand and extending his finger of his other toward Morris.

Felton had not seen the replay an hour after the game ended and wouldn't comment on any possible discipline of Mercer. The SEC office also could get involved.

"I really don't have anything to say until I see it," Felton said. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Morris got the last laugh as he led Kentucky with 14 points and had five of the Wildcats' 41 rebounds. Georgia got just 23 rebounds and no points from any of its forwards or centers.

"I certainly don't believe we were being lazy in any part of the rebounding game," Felton said. "I just think they were very physical."

Kentucky had 36 points in the paint and 18 second-chance points compared to Georgia's 12 and 5. Felton credited Kentucky's 56 percent shooting for the game, including 60 percent in the second half, to its high number of easy, putback baskets.

Georgia led most of the first half but Kentucky took a 35-32 advantage to the halftime locker room after scoring nine of the half's final 12 points.

Early in the game, it looked like Kentucky's losing streak would continue. In the first seven minutes, the Wildcats committed five turnovers and missed all four of their free throw attempts.

Meanwhile, Georgia took an 18-8 lead on the strength of 4-for-8 shooting from behind the 3-point line. Kentucky quickly wiped out that lead with a 10-0 run in two minutes, 36 seconds. Ramel Bradley tied the game at 18-all with 10:41 left in the half. Kentucky took its first lead of the game with 9:46 left in the first half when Bobby Perry hit two free throws following two offensive rebounds by the Wildcats. Kentucky had 11 second-chance points compared to Georgia's three in the first half.

NOTES: Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith watched Tuesday night's game from the third row while sitting beside Lady Bulldogs All-America Tasha Humphrey.


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