Date story published: Monday, February 23, 1998
Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith and his wife, Donna, loved the first possession of the second half yesterday.
Georgia point guard G.G. Smith, the first born of Donna and Tubby, picked up his dribble and dragged his foot in reaction to suddenly intense UK defensive pressure.
After the walking call, Donna Smith rose out of her seat three rows behind the Kentucky bench. She looked across the court to the bluest of Rupp Arena's blue-blooded fans and appealed for louder cheers. She repeatedly raised her arms to signal an increase in the noise volume.
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So much for blood being thicker than water. Competition prevailed over compassion, even on Kentucky's beloved Senior Day. Especially with the Cats flirting with another home-court defeat.
"That first half, G.G. was killing us," Donna Smith said afterward.
That second half, Kentucky's defense killed Georgia. UK held the Bulldogs to two baskets in the first 15 minutes of the second half en route to an 85-74 victory.
G.G. Smith's turnover signaled a more intense defensive effort from Kentucky. After shooting 53.6 percent in the first half, Georgia shot 18.8 percent in the second.
Kentucky credited its zone defense as decisive. The Cats switched to the zone after a television timeout with 11:57 left.
"We were able to shift gears," Tubby Smith said of a peeling-rubber 30-7 run that almost immediately ensued. Harkening back to the old-fashioned Kentucky blitzkriegs of yesteryear, the Cats erased a 55-48 deficit and built a 78-62 cushion to protect inside the final three minutes.
Kentucky improved to 24-4 overall and 12-2 in the Southeastern Conference. The latter clinched at least a tie for the Eastern Division championship.
Georgia, its NCAA Tournament hopes flickering, fell to 14-12 overall and 6-8 in the SEC.
A halftime appeal to point guard Wayne Turner set in motion UK's much-improved defense. G.G. Smith had to be stopped. He'd played a near-flawless first half (team-high 12 points, three assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes) and directed Georgia to a 43-36 halftime lead.
"It's sort of embarrassing," UK forward Scott Padgett said of Georgia's first-half shooting. "We know we're a better defensive team than that."
At halftime, Tubby Smith challenged Turner to stop G.G. Smith. Was it weird being asked by a father to put the defensive cuffs on his son?
"No, not really," Turner said. "He's on the opposing team. And we're trying to win the game. And he was the reason we were behind."
In asking for better defense, Tubby Smith all but taunted Turner.
"He called me the worst defensive player he ever coached," the UK point guard said with a smile. "Something kind of clicked in my head. I think I'm one of the best defensive players on the team. That got me fired up. Coming into the second half, I thought I'll show that no one can beat me off the dribble. I'm going to shut G.G. down."
Although both sides saluted UK's zone defense as decisive, the Cats' man-to-man to start the second half protected the basket like a pit bull would guard a pork chop. Georgia only got one shot to the rim in the first two minutes (forward Badi Oliver missed an open dunk).
Georgia did not get a basket until freshman Jumaine Jones, who led all scorers with 21 points, hit a three-pointer with 13:44 left.
The Bulldogs had only two baskets when Tubby Smith switched to the zone at the 11:57 mark.
"We were trying to match up with them on the perimeter because I thought we could shut them down inside," the UK coach said. In a zone "we're able to stop them, contain the dribbler on the perimeter, making them shoot over us and hopefully get some momentum."
Georgia flailed away from outside (four of 18 three-point shooting in the second half). The Bulldogs had only two two-point baskets, the second a meaningless Phenizee Ransom layup at the buzzer.
"We didn't shoot well and couldn't get the ball inside to get to the free-throw line," said Georgia's first-year coach, Ron Jirsa "But they are a bigger team with a good zone."
Georgia's reliance on outside shooting fueled UK's transition game.
With the crowd cheering louder and louder, senior Allen Edwards gave UK the lead for good on a rebound basket with 8:22 left.
Five of Kentucky's final eight baskets in the 30-7 run came in transition. None was prettier than a fast-break layup by Turner.
A minute earlier, Georgia had just reduced UK's lead to 67-62 on a Jones three-pointer. (It was Georgia's third basket of the half and came with 4:57 left.)
With the lead at 69-62, Turner came down with Jeff Sheppard on a two-on-Jones fast break. Turner looked to his right to Sheppard, then moved the ball to his right. But as Jones moved to Sheppard, Turner brought the ball back to his chest and floated to a layup.
"Just a playground move that a kid learns on the playground," Turner said. "Growing up in Boston, that was one of the tricks we use. Jones being a freshman, he hadn't seen that move."