If you think Georgia can't trip up Kentucky, read this

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 28, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Earlier this week, Georgia Coach Mark Fox called playing at Kentucky on Senior Night a "daunting task." But can it be any more daunting than in 2009, when Georgia became not only the last visiting team to win on UK's Senior Night, but the last opponent — period — to beat the Cats in Rupp Arena?

Then as now, Georgia brought the second-worst Southeastern Conference record into the game. Not only had the Bulldogs won just two of their previous 14 SEC games, but the school had fired Coach Dennis Felton in late January.

The firing came after a 23-point home loss to Kentucky and a 26-point loss at Florida. That Felton chose to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration between those games might have made I-was-there historical sense, but the decision was second-guessed in terms of job security.

With so much already going wrong and the season's final two weeks a mere formality, playing Kentucky on Senior Night shrunk to insignificance.

"That was a tough time for all of us," recalled Pete Herrmann, who served as Georgia's interim coach after Felton's firing. "I didn't want to take over for Dennis. We were very close.

"(The Georgia players) knew there was going to be a coaching change. I wasn't going to be there (the next season). They were able to play very loosely. There wasn't any pressure."

Herrmann kept coaching. He recalled giving forward Terrance Woodbury, the team's only four-year senior, some telling advice.

"You need to have 30 points or more in this game," Herrmann told Woodbury, "but you're not going to get them like you think you're going to get them."

Woodbury, whose face lit up at the suggestion of 30 or more points, needed an explanation.

Then as now, Kentucky's shot-blocking figured in any opponent's game plan. The Cats of 2008-09 finished No. 3 nationally in blocks (6.6 per game). Patrick Patterson (No. 39) and Perry Stevenson (No. 56) guarded the basket.

Herrmann emphasized transition offense as a means to score before the shot blockers got in place to protect the basket. Woodbury, a trigger-happy three-pointer shooter, needed to keep his perimeter gun holstered.

"We're going to try to get numbers and drive the ball," Herrmann told Woodbury. "... I don't want you just catching the ball when we run out with (superior) numbers and just shooting it. I want you to drive the ball."

Woodbury followed orders, as evidenced by his 12-for-12 free-throw shooting, which marked the most foul shots made by a UK opponent that season. By contrast, Georgia as a team took only 11 free throws in the first meeting on Jan. 18 of the 2008-09 season.

"We really took his plan and ran with it," Woodbury said Tuesday, no pun intended.

Woodbury, now playing for the Austin (Texas) Toros of the NBA Developmental League, took only four three-point shots. He made them all, en route to a 30-point performance. Only later did it become known that Woodbury played that game with a torn foot ligament that required off-season surgery.

When asked whether he remembered the game, Woodbury said, "Definitely, man. It was a very special moment for me and a very special moment for the team."

As Herrmann and Woodbury recalled, Georgia knew by halftime that it had a chance to spoil Kentucky's Senior Night party. UK's 49-47 lead at intermission paled next to the Cats' 38-19 bulge at Georgia in January. Georgia figured a competitive first half shook Kentucky.

"If you can stay with a team early, it kind of messes with them and their pysche," Woodbury said. "They beat us pretty bad (68-45) the first game. For us to be able to take a loss like that and turn it around, (UK had to think) 'Are they really going to shoot like that?' "

Georgia made 52 percent of its first-half shots and cooled off only slightly in the second half (27-for-54 for the game).

Perhaps just as important, 47 first-half points emboldened Georgia's players.

"I can remember kids at halftime being excited because they were able to score so consistently," said Herr mann, now coaching for Young Harris College, a Division II school in northeast Georgia. "Whenever that happens, you've got a chance because your players believe you have a chance of winning."

By outrebounding UK 38-27, Georgia had many more chances to use its transition offense. And drive to the basket the Dawgs did. Georgia made 25 of 30 free-throw attempts.

That Georgia finished last in the SEC's then-Eastern Division, a whopping five games behind next to last, made the Bulldogs' 90-85 victory hard to believe. For Woodbury, it's almost as hard to believe as hearing on a recent telecast that Kentucky had not lost another home game since.

"Now, that is crazy," Woodbury said. "They hadn't lost since then?!"

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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