Dawgs prepare for streaking Cats

ATHENS, Ga. - With a 17-game winning streak, Kentucky is the hottest team in the nation. Many observers believe the No. 2 Wildcats also are the best team in the nation. If so, there may never be a better time for No. 21 Georgia to determine how it stands against top competition.

Armed with a perfect home record and a four-game winning streak, Georgia plays host to Kentucky Sunday at 4.

"We're playing the best team in the country,'' Georgia coach Jim Harrick said Saturday before adding "I think we're playing the best our team has played all year. It's March. You have to be playing your best.''

The obvious concern is how former Georgia player Tony Cole's allegations of NCAA violations by Harrick and especially his son, assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., will affect the Bulldogs' focus for their final three games of the regular season.

For the first time in his four years at Georgia, Harrick closed practice Friday and Saturday. Each day the team was without Harrick Jr., who has been suspended with pay, pending the outcome of investigations into Cole's allegations.

As a further distraction, players missed practice both days with flu symptoms.

Harrick said he was worried about the virus spreading through the team and admitted the allegations have players and coaches thinking about more than just today's game.

"I don't know that you know how anything off the court will affect the players,'' Harrick said.

Harrick's team has more than enough to worry about on the court. Kentucky is a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Though it lacks a superstar presence, it boasts a deep roster of talented players and, unlike Georgia, does not lean heavily on the contributions from just one or two players.

If Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams each are hot, as they were in Wednesday night's 89-82 win at Mississippi, Georgia can compete with Kentucky. Last season, with each team using similar starting lineups, the Bulldogs swept two regular-season games from the Wildcats.

In an 87-67 loss at Kentucky on Feb. 11, Hayes scored 17 points but Williams was held to five points. In the sweep of Kentucky last season, Hayes averaged 25 points and Williams averaged 19.5 points.

Since the loss at Kentucky, Georgia has regained momentum with wins over Vanderbilt, Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss. Hayes, SEC Player of the Week, is especially hot with 23, 26 and a career-high 32 points in his last three games.

"Certainly we know we're gonna have our work cut out for us going into Athens,'' said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "We had a very good game against them here. We know how difficult it is to play at Stegeman Coliseum.''

In the Feb. 11 game, Kentucky outrebounded Georgia 45-31 and beat the Bulldogs at their strength - 3-point shooting. While Kentucky was 11 for 23 (47.8 percent) behind the 3-point line, Georgia made only 2 of 14 (14.3 percent) 3-pointers.

"I think they really opened our eyes to the fact we just had to play better,'' Harrick said.  "Make no mistake about it, they're a quality, quality basketball team.''

Added Harrick:  "We're playing much better than we were (on Feb. 11), and we're going to need to.''

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