It was just a bit over four years ago the last time a Kentucky Wildcats / Georgia Bulldogs basketball game meant so much. Kentucky, with a NCAA berth on the line, hosted a dreadful Bulldog team that was just 2-12 in the SEC. The Bulldogs, not caring that it was Senior Night in Rupp Arena, delivered a shocking 90-85 upset of the Wildcats and for most part, sealed the deal of a UK NIT bid. Once again, Kentucky faces Georgia on Senior Night needing a win to keep NCAA dreams alive. But this time, the game is on the road at Georgia and the Bulldogs are a respectable 8-8 in the SEC. Although the stadium was different, the result was the same as Georgia put UK’s NCAA hopes on life support with a 72-62 win.
One of the things that had been missing lately was the strong of play of Kyle Wiltjer. He found Willie Cauley-Stein for a thunderous dunk early. Archie Goodwin followed with an early trey and Wiltjer drilled a short jumper to cap a 7-0 UK run and UK had an early 11-5 lead. The Wildcats could not handle their early success and missed six of their first seven FT attempts. A Kentavious Caldwell -Pope three pointer and Nemanja Djurisic basket gave Georgia a 15-14 lead.
The Bulldogs would push the lead to 25-20 when Djurisic blew past Alex Poythress for a lay-up but Kentucky battled back to close the gap to 25-24 behind baskets from Poythress and Hood, but that was the last hurrah for the opening stanza.
A long Caldwell-Pope trey gave the Bulldogs a 31-26 halftime lead, but Kentucky should have been down much more. The halftime numbers for Kentucky were plain ugly. 11.1$ from long-range, 30% FT percentage, and 37.9% overall FG percentage. The half ended with Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Ryan Harrow on the bench with two fouls. And Julius Mays was virtually non-existent. Georgia should have been up 15 at the half, but they left the door open for Kentucky. All Kentucky needed was someone to step up and bust it open.
Perhaps it would be Ryan Harrow to step up. Harrow added a quick five points to pull Kentucky to within 33-31, but the turnovers and bad defense returned and Georgia stretched the lead to 37-31. Despite starting 1-10 in the second half, the Bulldogs maintained their halftime lead and stretched it to 42-34 after a trey by Djurisic. Donte ’ Williams FT’s made it a double-digit lead and the Bulldogs held that lead for several minutes as Kentucky could make no inroads. A Caldwell-Pope three-point play made the score 50-40 with 9:05 left.
And then Kentucky finally woke up, albeit temporarily. A Goodwin lay-up, Harrow tip in, and Wiltjer trey gave UK a 7-0 run and closed the gap to 50-47 at the 7:46 mark, but four straight Bulldog points made the lead seven once again. At this point, Kentucky was their own worst enemy with horrible decisions and equally bad shot selection. A Caldwell-Pope dunk and Donte’ Williams FT’s made it 60-47 with just 3:59 remaining, And for all general purposes, this game was over as the Bulldogs handed Kentucky their third straight road loss by double digits.
In a way, it’s not fair to be harsh on Kentucky. Very few teams could withstand the loss of a Nerlens Noel, and Kentucky proving once again that they simply are not a very good man without their heart and soul. But even with Noel, Georgia is a team Kentucky has the talent to beat. But we have seen it all before as this seasons script evolves into an especially horrifying version of ‘Groundhog Day”.
Kentucky has the talent, but still can not get it untracked. Once again we are subjected to the blank stares and ineffectual play of Alex Poythress who scored four points on 1-3 shooting. The incredibly poor shot selection and infuriating decision making of Archie Goodwin who led Kentucky with 20 points, but elicited just as many curse filled rants from viewers watching at home. And the sheer reality that as great of a point guard wizard John Calipari is, his magic is wasted on Ryan Harrow who had zero assists and was pulled frequently for increasingly boneheaded plays. Yet, it is the hand that John Calipari is dealt with. And on paper, Kentucky still has the talent to make a tournament run.
With this talent, a NCAA berth is still within grasp, but perfection is required at this point and that means beating Florida on Saturday and winning the SEC Tournament. To be honest, beating Florida is actually a moot point as I still think a SEC Tournament Title is needed, but it would be a kick-start to the aura of this team. Perhaps the pomp and circumstance of Senior Day Saturday will get it through the head of this team what it means to be a Wildcat and they can finally play to their potential and give UK fans some hope.