Date story published: Monday, February 6, 1989
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's Alec Kessler, the 6-foot-11 center, scored 22 points, grabbed 13 rebounds. Georgia's Pat Hamilton, the senior guard, scored 13 points the second half, made three steals for the game. Georgia's Litterial Green, the freshman point guard, had seven assists, drilled a trio of three- pointers in the first half.
Georgia had more offensive rebounds than Kentucky had defensive boards. Georgia suffered half as many turnovers as did the visitors. Georgia made 26 of 31 free throws. Georgia, Georgia, Georgia.
"Today," said UK guard Sean Sutton, "Georgia showed why it was the favorite to win the conference."
So the Bulldogs did, placing a hard bite on Kentucky 84-72 yesterday at Georgia Coliseum.
"We just thought Georgia played a whale of a basketball game," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "Of all the games we've seen them play on film, I thought they played as well today as I've seen them."
In doing so, the Bulldogs improved to 13-8 overall, 5-6 in the crazy Southeastern Conference race. Kentucky returned to .500, 11-11 overall. The Wildcats are 6-4 in league play, still a game behind leader LSU (7-3). Yesterday was the second straight weekend Eddie Sutton's team had an opportunity to earn a share of the conference lead. And failed. Last Saturday, UK lost at Mississippi.
"I don't think we're going to have too many more chances," Wildcat center LeRon Ellis said.
But Georgia saw yesterday as perhaps its last chance. "This was the most critical game we've had in a long time," Kessler said. "Either we were going to fall out of the race or stay in the race."
The Dogs' dive, remember, began in Lexington Jan. 4. Kentucky triumphed 76-65. Georgia subsequently lost four straight on the way to a highly disappointing 2-6 start.
Then Hugh Durham's team upset Tennessee 74-73 in Knoxville. Next came a 75-62 win at Auburn. And yesterday brought ABC's cameras and the conference's big name to campus.
"Kentucky is the program by which all other schools in the conference are measured by," the Georgia coach said. "Although they've lost some players, anytime you beat Coach Sutton and his team, it's a great accomplishment."
A Reggie Hanson bucket put UK up 14-13 early. When Georgia reserve Jody Patton sank a three-pointer (his first at home in SEC play), Sean Sutton responded with back-to-back buckets, putting the visitors on top 18-16.
But then Georgia claimed control. Green buried a three-pointer from the top of the key. Hamilton scored on a drive, while being fouled, then hit the free shot. Green made another three. "They were giving us the shot at the top of the key," he said. "When they do that Coach says we've got to hit them."
A rebound basket from Hanson stopped the skid only briefly. This time Patton knocked in a three, then scored on a drive and Georgia led 30-20, the product of a 14-2 run.
"They just hit some big shots," Eddie Sutton said. "We went to a zone as a change of pace and obviously they shot the ball better than we thought they would. In our zone, we didn't contest the outside shot like we should have. But in the man-to-man, we couldn't contain their dribblers."
Thus the slower Cats kept picking up fouls. "We didn't want to put them in the bonus because they're such a good free-throw shooting team," Eddie Sutton said. "But I think the first two minutes we picked up three fouls."
Georgia entered the bonus at the 8:07 mark. And with Green and Patton connecting outside, the inside opened for Kessler. The junior scored eight of the Bulldogs' final 12 points before intermission. Six came at the foul line.
A three-point play from Ellis with 27 seconds left cut the Dog halftime lead to less than double digits, 42-33. "We weren't sitting good," Sean Sutton said. "But we still thought we had a good chance to win the game."
UK shot very well -- 58.3 percent from the floor. But the Cats were being bludgeoned on the boards. Kessler had as many by himself (11) as Kentucky did as a team in the first half. Georgia had nine offensive rebounds the first half. The Dogs had seven, for the game, in Lexington.
The trend did not change the second half. A Derrick Miller three-pointer cut the lead to 52-46. But Hamilton came alive, hitting two foul shots, throwing in a three-pointer, then cashing in a fast break, carrying the lead to 13 points, 59-46 with 12 minutes remaining.
Five minutes later, UK sliced it to 63-56. But after hitting a free throw, Kessler missed the second only to have teammate Marshall Wilson grab the rebund. Hamilton hit from the left baseline. And, a possession later, when Chris Mills (who led UK with 19 points) was called for walking the baseline, Wilson got another hoop off a rebound. Georgia 68, Kentucky 56.
The final Cat charge came late. Successive three-pointers from reserves Deron Feldhaus and Richie Farmer cut it to 76-70. A put-back by Mills made it 78-72 with 1:13 remaining.
But Ellis missed a three and Wilson made two foul shots. Miller missed and Green hit two foul shots. Mills missed a three and Kessler, with 20 seconds, put in the final points from the line.
"I was proud of the way we fought back," Eddie Sutton said. "But every time we made a good charge we couldn't get over the hump."
"They're a better team now than the first time we played them," Miller said. "But we helped them, too."
Examples: Kentucky had 18 turnovers to Georgia's nine. Kentucky had 17 defensive rebounds to Georgia's 19 off the offensive glass. Three Cats (Reggie Hanson, Mills and Sutton) fouled out.
Did the much-publicized university board of trustees meeting, concerning the school's report to the NCAA, have any effect on the Cats' play?
"I'm sure that didn't help our preparation," Eddie Sutton said. "But we don't have any control over that. I'm not making any alibis, but I think if we were being honest we couldn't say it didn't bother our basketball team."
"We're just trying to put everything aside and shut it out," Ellis said. "But sometimes that's kind of hard."
Especially when yesterday, Georgia played like, well, Georgia was supposed to play all along.
Durham said, "We'll really enjoy this one."