The No. 1 Wildcats will face an inconsistent Bulldogs team that won’t have two key players from last season’s upset in Athens.
Kentucky (19-1, 5-0 SEC) was only team among the top four in last week’s AP poll to win Saturday as it held off visiting Alabama 77-71. The Wildcats scored their final 15 points from the free-throw line and made 23 of 29 attempts in the second half.
“We are just happy we got the win,” said forward Anthony Davis, one of a season-high six players in double figures with 11 points. “We still have a lot to work on. We’re going to watch film to see what we did wrong and try to fix our mistakes.”
That win, combined with Syracuse’s first loss, helped Kentucky return to the No. 1 spot in the rankings for the first time since the Dec. 5 poll. That two-week stay ended after a last-second defeat at Indiana.
The Wildcats have won 11 in a row since then for their longest win streak since prevailing in their first 19 games under coach John Calipari during the 2009-10 season. They might have a good chance to add to that run against the Bulldogs (10-9, 1-4).
Georgia qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years and second time in nine seasons in 2011. Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie played a big part in getting the Bulldogs there, but both are currently members of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Thompkins scored 25 points and Leslie added 15 during a 77-70 home win over then-No. 10 Kentucky last January.
Without those two players, Georgia is averaging an SEC-worst 61.9 points on 39.9 percent shooting after scoring 68.7 per game in 2010-11. The Bulldogs, though, have an emerging star in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The freshman guard said he was recruited by Kentucky, and he’s looking forward to facing the Wildcats.
“I get motivated because they’re the No. 1 team in the country and the guys on their team are guys I played against in AAU,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to play against them again.”
Caldwell-Pope, averaging a team-best 14.7 points, had a season-high 25 during a 66-63 loss to visiting Mississippi on Saturday, with most of that scoring coming on five 3-pointers.
“He’s a terrific player,” Calipari said. “I’m telling you, he’s one of the best in our league and forget about class. I think anymore when you start looking at class, you’re making a mistake. If a kid can play, he can play, and forget about age.”
Senior guard Gerald Robinson added 19 points, six assists and five steals for Georgia against the Rebels, but a late rally from a double-digit deficit fell short.
Robinson scored 17 during the upset of Kentucky and 12 during a 66-60 loss at Rupp Arena last Jan. 29. Current senior Dustin Ware had a team-best 18 points in that defeat and has averaged 12.6 - nearly five more than his career mark - on 52.6 percent shooting over the last five matchups.
Wildcats leading scorer Doron Lamb averaged a team-best 18.5 points during last season’s series, while Terrence Jones had 24 points and 10 rebounds during the loss in Athens.
Kentucky will travel to Georgia for the first time as a top-ranked team, and Bulldogs coach Mark Fox is relishing the situation.
“How many people get this chance in life, you know?” Fox said. “How many people get this chance? I never got it as a player. You don’t get it real often as a coach. It’s just a great opportunity.”