Fast-starting Kentucky puts away Georgia 66-60

Cats' big lead withers down the stretch

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 30, 2011 

If Kentucky wins the Southeastern Conference and does something special in the post-season, chances are the Cats will "March" their way to success. Out like a lion. In like a lamb.

UK's inconsistency again fell into that pattern in a 66-60 victory over Georgia on Saturday.

Much like the victory at South Carolina the previous weekend, UK got off to a roaring start and seemed headed for a seamless display of superiority. Then came a woolly finish that put a question mark on a game looking for an exclamation point.

"It just goes along with us not playing a full game," said Darius Miller, who scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. "We have to focus on that and really take care of it or it's going to come back and bite us. It already has."

When a reporter asked if Miller felt like he'd made a similar point at other times this season, he laughed and said, "I do feel I've said that a million times."

This particular time, Kentucky led by as much as 17 points on three occasions and by 13 with less than four minutes left.

Down the stretch, Georgia got as close as 59-53. UK, which came into the game ranked 19th nationally in fewest turnovers (11.2 per game), coughed up the ball three times in the final 45 seconds.

"We're a young team," center Josh Harrellson said. "It's going to happen from time to time."

But game to game?

"We've got to fix that habit pretty quick," Harrellson said, "because you can't make it a habit every game."

Less than three minutes into the game, Kentucky had made four of its first five shots and led 9-2. Georgia retreated out of a man-to-man defense to a zone. Trey Thompkins, the pre-season SEC Player of the Year, had not taken a shot.

Georgia mulled all that with a timeout at the 17:06 mark.

"I saw early signs we were not where I wanted us to be," said Georgia Coach Mark Fox, a reference to Tuesday's draining double-overtime loss to Florida. "... Kentucky came out of the gates so strong. We had to play catch-up all night. We just didn't make enough plays."

Kentucky led 24-12 with 9:35 left. The momentum continued UK's way when Thompkins committed a charge for his second foul at the 7:42 mark.

With Thompkins on the bench, Kentucky widened its lead to as much as 17 points twice down the stretch of the first half.

In one memorable sequence, Miller drove to the hoop with the clear intention of sending a one-hand dunk home. Though a foul prevented the attempt, DeAndre Liggins and Harrellson rushed to Miller to offer congratulations.

A Georgia counter-attack seemed inevitable. Thirteen of the Bulldogs' 19 games this season had been decided by seven or fewer points, or in overtime.

On cue, Georgia rallied. Gerald Robinson's driving layup reduced Kentucky's lead to 48-38 with 14:06 left.

Thompkins' two free throws with 8:21 left made the margin 53-45. That marked the first time Georgia had been within 10 of Kentucky since the 5:39 mark of the first half.

Kentucky still led 59-46 with less than four minutes left.

Thompkins, a 27-percent three-point shooter this season, got a wide-open attempt from beyond the arc on the left wing. He missed.

Practically the same scenario unfolded a minute later. Thompkins, en route to 2-for-10 shooting and his first game of the season without double-digit points, missed a wide-open three-pointer from the right wing.

UK couldn't keep dodging. When Dustin Ware, who led Georgia with 19 points, hit a three-pointer, the Bulldogs were within 59-53. More than two minutes remained.

Yet another Thompkins miss from three-point range cooled the rally.

Then Kentucky tried to rekindle the Georgia charge. Miller could not inbound the ball, resulting in a five-second call. Trapped by the Georgia bench, Knight had the ball go off him out of bounds. In the final seconds, Terrence Jones needlessly — and ultimately, harmlessly — threw away an outlet pass.

UK Coach John Calipari called for veterans like Liggins, Miller and Harrellson to do more in the clutch.

"They have to be the guys making plays down the stretch, not freshmen," Calipari said.

Fine and dandy until reporters bounced that thought off Harrellson.

"Sometimes I feel I'm along with the freshmen because I haven't played much here," said Harrellson, who averaged 7.2 minutes until this season. "I'm new at times, too."

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