Kentucky 68, Georgia 61
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Kentucky used a carousel of lineups—including three new starters—to defeat Georgia 68-61 Wednesday night, snapping a three-game losing streak and keeping its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
In the battle of long scoring runs for both teams, 11 Wildcats saw playing time and 10 of them got at least one basket. Rajon Rondo, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals, was among the starters benched and had a season-low four points.
Kentucky (16-9, 6-5 Southeastern Conference) was coming off losses to Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt—the first three-game losing streak for the Wildcats in SEC play since Eddie Sutton’s last season in 1988-89.
During practice this week, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who led the Bulldogs for two seasons in the 1990s, declared a “fresh start” on the struggling season. Every job on the team was open to competition, Smith said, and those who practiced best would start.
He wasn’t kidding.
In were three newcomers—Lukasz Obrzut, Ravi Moss and Brandon Stockton, who was making his first ever start and hadn’t even played in five of the last seven games. Out was the team’s best guard, Rondo, best center, Randolph Morris, and breakout sophomore swingman Joe Crawford.
The experiment worked well early as the Wildcats got out to a 5-1 lead, but then turnovers plagued them. Smith called for Morris five minutes into the game with Kentucky down 10-9, and Crawford and Rondo followed a minute later.
Lost amid the substitutions, however, was Sheray Thomas, who entered with the usual starters and scored the game’s next six points on a dunk, layup and long jumper. Thomas led the team with 13 points, making six of eight shots.
His first six points ignited a 13-0 run for the Wildcats, but Georgia (14-10, 4-7) immediately followed with a 15-2 run of its own to regain the lead.
Although the Bulldogs missed 15 of their first 19 shots to start the game, it took a Morris dunk and layup in the final seconds to preserve a 28-25 advantage for Kentucky at halftime.
That was the beginning of an 8-0 Kentucky run, and they’d add yet another— a 12-2 run—in the second half.
Two bright spots for Georgia were guards Billy Humphrey, who led the team with 14 points, and freshman Mike Mercer, who added 13—including consecutive 3-pointers in the first-half that pulled the Bulldogs within striking distance.
Mercer was part of a similar lineup shakeup earlier this season for Dennis Felton, who showed his disgust throughout the game by loudly stomping his foot — and once even high-kicking it while standing on the floor.
Kentucky made 50 percent of its shots, lifting the team’s record to 101-2 all-time under Smith when achieving at least that mark.
But amid the positives, there were some negatives for the Wildcats. They turned the ball over 26 times, compared to 14 for Georgia, and made only four of 11 free-throws.
Stockton, the only Wildcat shut out, had a chance to join his 10 teammates on the scoreboard in the final seconds when he got two free-throw attempts, but he missed them both.