Kentucky defense makes Dogs 'buckle'

ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia players admitted the pressure was the difference in the closing minutes of Sunday's loss to No. 2 Kentucky.

The pressure, however, came from the Kentucky defense, they say - not from the controversy surrounding allegations from former teammate Tony Cole about NCAA rules violations by Georgia coach Jim Harrick, his staff or boosters.

Georgia trailed by only two points before committing turnovers on four straight possessions that allowed Kentucky to pull away late and take a 74-66 victory Sunday before a Stegeman Coliseum sellout crowd of 10,523. Kentucky (24-3 overall, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) has won 18 straight games - now the longest streak in the nation for any team all season - and with Sunday's win clinched a share of the SEC's Eastern Division title.

Georgia, No. 21 in the AP poll, suffered its first home loss of the season and saw a four-game winning streak end. The Bulldogs (17-8 overall, 9-5 SEC) play host to No. 4 Florida Tuesday night at 9. Georgia led 44-41 early in the second half and led for the last time at 54-53 with 6:26 left to play.

Beginning with a steal by Kentucky's Chuck Hayes on a pass from Rashad Wright with about four minutes left to play, Georgia lost the ball on four straight possessions and went almost six minutes without a field goal before Ezra Williams sank a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left. By then, there was little doubt Kentucky had the victory clinched.

"We just buckled,'' said Georgia's Jarvis Hayes, who fouled out with 2:13 left to play after scoring only 11 points - 7.4 below his average - on 5-for-15 shooting. Added Hayes: "We fell apart at the four-minute mark.''

Kentucky is trying to become the first team since 1996 to make it through its SEC schedule without a loss. Sunday's game was closer than most conference games Kentucky has played; it won its first 13 SEC games by an average of 14.1 points.

"We are relieved to get the win,'' said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "We raised our intensity in the second half. It was a hard-fought game. I commend Georgia. They made a run in the second half and got back into the game.''

In SEC games, Kentucky leads the league in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense, 3-point defense, rebounding defense and turnover margin. Wright, normally one of the most dependable guards in the conference, matched his season high with five turnovers. Overall, 10 Georgia turnovers led to 16 Kentucky points.

As was the case in the Wildcats' 87-67 home victory over Georgia on Feb. 11, rebounding was another big key. Kentucky grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and overall claimed a 50-32 advantage on the boards. Georgia, which also lost Damien Wilkins to fouls, was outscored 28-14 at the free-throw line.

"They just beat us really badly on the boards,'' Harrick said, adding the Wildcats' offensive rebounding "leads to a lot of things.'' Added Harrick: "We had two more field goals than they did, but it seems like we were always fouling and they were always going to the line.''

Center Marquis Estill, who led Kentucky with 16 points, and backup guard Cliff Hawkins combined to shoot 22 free throws. Chuck Hayes added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Keith Bogans (14 points) and Macon's Gerald Fitch (10) also scored in double figures for Kentucky.

"They're undefeated in the league for a reason," Harrick said. "They've really got it rolling. I'm happy for Coach (Tubby) Smith. There's not too many times in your coaching life you get a magical time going, and I think they've got a magical thing going.''

Williams made only 5 of 14 shots from the field but scored a game-high 17 points. Steve Thomas added 12 points and led Georgia with 11 rebounds.

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