No. 5 Kentucky 60, Georgia 51
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—As he addressed the fans who remained at Rupp Arena to listen to his postgame radio show, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith offered an apology for his team’s poor play.
Smith no doubt was grateful he wasn’t apologizing for a loss by his fifth-ranked Wildcats, who held off a late run by undermanned Georgia for a 60-51 victory on Saturday.
Chuck Hayes and Patrick Sparks each scored 14 points for Kentucky (19-2, 10-0 Southeastern Conference), which led by as many as 21 points in the second half before weathering the Georgia comeback.
The Bulldogs (7-14, 1-10) rallied within 55-50 with 2:04 left and came up empty on two other chances to further cut into the margin.
Rajon Rondo made a 5-foot jumper and Kelenna Azubuike went 3-of-4 from the free throw line in the final 26 seconds to seal Kentucky’s ninth straight win since a loss to No. 3 Kansas. Kentucky has won 19 straight SEC games, including last season’s conference tournament.
“We just beat Georgia by (nine),” Hayes said, shaking his head. “We’re not as good as we think we are.”
Georgia, which started four freshmen and a sophomore and played without injured leading scorer Levi Stukes, lost its sixth straight. The Bulldogs outrebounded Kentucky 37-29, but committed 18 turnovers and made only 10 of 22 free throws.
Smith said if Georgia had made more free throws, “we would be sitting here trying to explain a loss.”
The Bulldogs’ tenacious defense negatively affected Kentucky, Sparks said.
“Georgia took us out of our game,” Sparks said. “They bugged us physically and we didn’t respond.”
Georgia jumped to a quick six-point lead, and with the Bulldogs ahead 9-5, Smith benched all his starters just over 4 minutes into the game. By the time the last three of them returned to the court at the 6:13 mark, Kentucky led 21-11.
Kentucky extended its lead to 13 points, but Georgia whittled it to six before Sparks nailed a 3-pointer in front of Georgia coach Dennis Felton as time expired in the half, giving the Wildcats a 29-20 lead.
Felton, who coached Sparks at Western Kentucky before he took the Georgia job and Sparks transferred to Kentucky, stomped off the floor in disgust.
An 11-1 run to start the second half pushed Kentucky’s lead to 40-21, and the Wildcats led 46-25 with 12 minutes left before Georgia rallied again.
Consecutive 3-pointers by walk-on Jay McAuley pulled the Bulldogs within 51-40, and a basket by Dave Bliss made it 55-50. But that was Georgia’s last field goal.
“The fact that we didn’t get on the slippery slope shows we have matured,” Felton said. “We had some success keeping the game played on our terms.”
Kentucky led 57-51 when Georgia’s Kevin Brophy missed a 3-point attempt. Georgia rebounded, but Hayes blocked a driving shot attempt by Sundiata Gaines.
“We did a better job of not being pushed around,” Felton said. “As a coach, you always hope your teams takes on an identity that represents you. When I compete, I have a chip on my shoulder.”
Gaines, a 6-foot-1 guard, had 13 points and 11 rebounds for Georgia, but finished 4-of-18 from the field. Bliss added 11 points for the Bulldogs.
Despite a 6-of-8 shooting effort from Hayes, Kentucky shot 43.8 percent from the field and 59.1 percent from the line, making only 13 of 22 free throws.
Georgia had won at Rupp Arena in two of the previous three seasons. Felton is 3-3 all-time against the Wildcats—2-3 at Georgia and 1-0 at Western Kentucky.