Sunday, January 18, 2004
Georgia shocks No. 5 Kentucky
Bulldogs snap UK's 19-game regular-season SEC win streak
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEXINGTON - The rationales in postgame interviews included mental fatigue and a lack of focus. Tubby Smith spoke of a "psychological barrier of trying to maintain a level of excellence."
Whatever. Kentucky had simply been bullied in its own backyard.
So much for its sheen of invincibility. Undermanned, underwhelming Georgia hit UK in the mouth, and the fifth-ranked Wildcats failed to answer. The 65-57 upset Saturday in Rupp Arena was a simple matter of a 16 1/2-point underdog flashing more muscle and hustle than the home team.
"They threw elbows at us, and we backed down," UK forward Chuck Hayes said.
UK had won 19 consecutive regular-season Southeastern Conference games and 21 straight overall in the league (including postseason), the seventh-longest streaks in both categories. The Wildcats (11-2, 2-1 SEC) had talked openly of running the table again.
Yet Georgia (9-5, 1-2), arguably the league's weakest team, outrebounded the Wildcats 36-23 and held them to 36.5 percent shooting. This from a Bulldog team that had been outrebounded by an average of 12 in its first two SEC games.
Georgia has just seven scholarship players and had been the SEC's most porous bunch, ranking last in scoring defense and field-goal shooting defense. It was one of the worst offenses, too, ranking 10th in field-goal percentage and last in 3-point shooting.
Yet it took the fight to UK.
UK's center, Erik Daniels, had just one rebound. UK's starting guards were a combined 2-for-14 (Gerald Fitch 2-for-9, Cliff Hawkins 0-for-5). They let Georgia's Rashad Wright go 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.
Daniels said afterward that UK had no business losing to Georgia. "But they struck the first blow, and we never recovered," he said.
Georgia may have crafted a blueprint for defending UK, clogging the lane and bumping the Wildcat guards. UK excels in transition, but Georgia allowed it just nine points off turnovers.
Key concerns are emerging. Though Smith used his bench more than usual Saturday, the starters have worn down in the past two games. UK's undersized squad has been outrebounded 61-33 over its last three halves.
"We need to have a better effort rebounding the ball," Smith said. "We did the same thing at Mississippi State, but we escaped down there because we got a lucky shot.
"If we don't improve our intensity and improve our toughness, we're going to have a tough time."
UK fell behind by 11 points in the first half Saturday, its largest deficit of the season. It climbed back and once took the lead, at 34-33 with 12:43 left to play. But Georgia retook the lead on the next possession and pushed its lead as high as 10 points, coasting through the final minutes.
Smith had spoken of his players feeling the strain of their SEC streak and playing "not to lose." Yet none of the Wildcats bought into that after Saturday's game.
"That was last year (with most of the wins). This is a different team," Hawkins said. "No one is going to bow down because we won 26 in a row last season. ... (The Bulldogs) had more swagger in their step, more energy."
Said Hayes: "I don't think the win streak was a problem. We just didn't show up."
This marked the second home loss of the season. UK had totaled just 12 home losses the previous 11 seasons.
There were 50 fouls called, and the teams nearly came to blows midway through the second half when UK's Antwain Barbour was fouled going for a dunk.
"They played aggressively and physically, and I don't think we responded well," Smith said.
Team rebounds - 5.
Team rebounds - 2.
3-pointers - G 6-12 (Wilkins 1-2, Wright 4-5, Stukes 1-3, Newman 0-1, Sikes 0-1), UK 4-19 (Azubuike 1-4, Hawkins 0-3, Fitch 2-7, Carrier 1-3, Cote 0-1, Barbour 0-1). Technicals - Georgia (Newman). Officials - N/A. Attendance - 23,102.
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