- Saturday, January 9 2010 -
Georgia - 68 (Head Coach: Mark Fox) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 76 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 3rd by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Georgia 35, Kentucky 34
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|Louisville 71 - 62|||||Florida 89 - 77|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
UK rallies down the stretch, beats Georgia
When John Calipari was asked what he liked most about his Kentucky basketball team on the eve of Southeastern Conference play he wasted no time lauding his young team's will to win. That innate ability was on full display once again just 24 hours later.
The Cats (16-0, 1-0) got everything they could handle from perceived conference lightweight Georgia before turning up the defense and locking the Bulldogs down over the final minutes for a 76-68 victory in front of 24,342 fans at Rupp Arena. UK held Georgia to just two field goals over the final 6:09 and saw sensational freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins score its final 11 points to close out the win.
And as Calipari predicted it was an eye-opener for a team full of youngsters embarking on the intense gauntlet that's conference basketball.
"I guess that's welcome to the SEC," Calipari said. "How about Georgia? I knew they were good. They beat Georgia Tech, they beat Illinois, they had us. They never quit playing. That's what happens in the league.
"I was worried like crazy. I watched four of their tapes twice and I was scared to death. My problem was (my team) didn't know how good that team was. You try to tell them but they don't understand. Again though, our will to win showed at the end."
Nothing came easy for the Cats. With much of the team battling a stomach virus the Cats jumped out to an early 11-point lead but looked disinterested as the Bulldogs battled back to take the lead on the strength of a 21-5 spurt. Only because Wall took over in the final minutes did UK pull within 35-34 at the break, a sign it is still a team that can struggle to score in the halfcourt (0-of-9 on threes) and at the free throw line (10-of-18).
Georgia continued to press the issue after the break, rallying every time UK threatened to break the game open with one of its patented runs. Calipari was forced to call a timeout with 8:23 remaining after the Bulldogs scored on six of seven possessions to take a 59-57 lead. A minute later the Bulldogs were whistled for goaltending, giving UK the lead for good but still would not roll over and play dead.
Cousins, who was in first half foul trouble again, came alive in the closing minutes by making five free throws, posting up underrated Georgia star Trey Thompkins for another bucket and hauling in a rebound that helped seal the deal.
"He was a beast," Calipari said. "We are throwing it to them every single time. He's making free throws now so we can do it but when you don't make free throws we can't play through you. The only way the can stop him is to grab his arms. He's getting it done."
"In the first half we never know where (Cousins) is but the second half he comes out a totally different person," freshman guard Eric Bledsoe added.
If nothing else the choppy victory further drove home Calipari's contention his team is the most strong-willed squad he's had in some time. What the Cats lack in execution and experience they seem to make up for with sheer will.
"I know we're a team with the most fight," senior forward Patrick Patterson said. "We have a will to win and no one wants to lose. Even when they made their run I still had total confidence in our team."
In the midst of that confidence was yet another learning experience for a team trying to find its way.
"It's going to be tough because everyone picked us to win the conference so we have to come out and play like it," Bledsoe said. "Everyone is going to come out like Georgia did."
Eric Bledsoe knifes toward the basket
DeMarcus Cousins stretches to deny a pass
DeAndre Liggins drives around UGa's Trey Thompkins