The Bulldogs dropped three spots to No. 20 in Monday's Associated Press Top 25 thanks to a 78-72 loss at Tennessee Saturday, and tonight the Bulldogs face perhaps their toughest challenge of the season when they visit No. 3 Kentucky.
With 12 straight wins, including a rout over then-No. 1 Florida one week ago, Coach Tubby Smith's Wildcats (18-3 overall, 8-0 in the Southeastern Conference) look like the league's strongest team.
While Georgia (13-6, 5-3) has been the SEC's top scoring team most of the season, Kentucky leads the league in scoring margin thanks to its tough defense. In conference games, Kentucky leads the league in defense.
Five times in the last three weeks, players have set SEC career highs in scoring against Georgia, which continues to rank last in the league in most team defense statistics.
With that in mind, a question about Kentucky's strong defense made Harrick grind his teeth a little Monday.
"(Defense) is what everybody is talking about, because they don't really know anything and media types think defense wins championships, which it does,'' Harrick said. "But you hear that and so you like to say it to show everybody that you know what you're talking about.''
In seven straight games, beginning with a Dec. 22 win over Appalachian State and continuing through a Jan. 18 win at Arkansas, Georgia held every opponent under 70 points and was 6-1 in that stretch, with only a 66-63 loss at Florida.
While posting a 3-2 mark since that streak, Georgia has allowed an average of 78 points per game.
"I don't think there's been any difference (in Georgia's play) with the exception of our defense,'' junior Damien Wilkins said Monday. "That's been the biggest difference in our lack of success. We haven't been as intense defensively as we had been. If we get that back, we'll be a lot better.''
In Saturday's loss at Tennessee, Ron Slay scorched the Bulldogs with 33 points, the senior's high mark in a conference game. Slay scored 29 points in an overtime loss in Athens on Jan. 22. Another Tennessee forward, Brandon Crump, set his SEC high with 16 points Saturday.
Kentucky features a balanced attack, but senior guard Keith Bogans is the most dangerous scorer on the team.
"Once again, it's like Ron Slay, it's (Bogans') senior year,'' said
Georgia's Jarvis Hayes, who may be assigned to guard Bogans. "There are some things you can't explain. When you're a senior, you realize you don't get another chance and you step up.''
A big part of Georgia's success last season was sweeping two regular-season games from Kentucky and also winning at Florida. With a 3-1 record against those two teams, Georgia won the tie-breaker — and the top seed in the SEC tournament — when it finished in a three-way tie for first place in the East.
Georgia's only previous win at Rupp Arena came in 1985, and overall the Bulldogs are 3-49 in Lexington. With 12 straight wins, the Wildcats are being discussed as a leading
national championship contender.
"They're clicking; they're really rolling right now,'' said Harrick of the Wildcats.
"Everything they're doing is really good, better than I've seen them play since I've been here. They played like that a couple years ago, but late in the year, not this early in the year.''
The Bulldogs have the edge of knowing they can win at Kentucky.
"We're not intimidated,'' Hayes said. "We're going in with the mentality we know we can win there, and we did win there last year.''