Date story published: Sunday, February 17, 2002
ATHENS, Ga. -- Clank, clank clank went the soundtrack accompanying Kentucky's fall to third place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division yesterday.
UK beat the rims if not Georgia, losing 78-69 in this high-stakes showdown.
The Cats made only 35.7 percent of their shots, the second-worst accuracy of the season. Maybe more damning, UK launched 28 three-point attempts -- its second-highest total since Jan. 2 -- against a medium-sized Georgia team that Florida beat with inside offense four days earlier.
Then again, Florida's outside shooting created room for All-SEC center Udonis Haslem to operate. Too often Kentucky shot blanks over a sagging Georgia defense made even more compact by the luxury of conceding outside shots to point guard Cliff Hawkins.
"Twenty-eight threes is not going to get it done if we're only going to make six," said Tayshaun Prince, who had 17 points but shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.
Kentucky took a whopping 16 three-point shots in the first half when one of the few Georgia players with inside presence, power forward Chris Daniels, sat on the bench. He served his one-half game suspension the SEC ordered after a belated re-review of the Bulldogs' game at Auburn last weekend.
After the teams played to a 32-32 deadlock in the first half, an eager Daniels helped Georgia take charge. He grabbed seven rebounds to lead Georgia's 28-19 advantage on the boards. His wire-to-wire 20-minute stint also included eight points, two steals and a steady complementary player to go with 6-foot-8 center Steve Thomas.
"He brought a lot," UK guard Gerald Fitch said of Daniels. "I think he was the turnaround of the game."
The constant of the game was Kentucky's poor shooting. The Cats, who fell behind Georgia into third place in the SEC Eastern Division (17-7, 7-5), made only two of their first nine shots and fell into catch-up mode immediately.
After Marquis Estill's post-up basket capped a rally that put UK ahead 28-22 with 7:50 left, the Cats' only basket the rest of the half: a Prince layup that required a backdoor cut to elude the Georgia defender.
Kentucky, which made only one of its final 11 shots of the first half, continued misfiring in the second half.
After Estill's tip-in put UK ahead 34-32, Georgia scored the next nine points to take control.
"It all boiled down to making those shots when we have the opportunity," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I didn't think we came up ready to shoot. Instead of shooting the ball from the pass, we tried to create a couple shots that were contested."
UK's perimeter scoring sputtered badly. Keith Bogans, potential super sub Rashaad Carruth and Hawkins shot a combined 5-for-25 (2-of-14 from three-point range). Including Prince, the guts of Kentucky's outside attack shot 3-for-20 from beyond the arc.
"We only backed off Hawkins," Georgia Coach Jim Harrick said of his team's sagging defense. "We'd let him beat us."
Hawkins, who must direct the offense yet make himself a scoring threat, made two of 10 shots. "It's tough," Smith said. "Now he's starting to think about it, and it gets in his head."
The first five minutes of the second half created the need to make clutch shots at the end.
Georgia (19-7, 8-5) took advantage of another slow start to a half for Kentucky. The Bulldogs raced to four quick baskets, the most spectacular was a fast-break lob that possible SEC Player of the Year Jarvis Hayes dunked. That early spurt put Georgia ahead 41-34 with 17:02 left.
"Once again, we came out in a second half and didn't play with the same type of energy and excitement we needed," Smith said.
Georgia, which did not trail in the final 19 minutes, barely withstood Kentucky's late rally.
Hawkins' only three-point basket in two weeks helped get the Cats within 61-59 at the five-minute mark.
When Chuck Hayes blocked Thomas' fast-break layup, UK seemed ready to seize control.
"I thought we could get the momentum," the UK freshman said. "I'm pretty sure we had them where we wanted them."
The chance to tie evaporated when Estill, seemingly bumped off-balance, shot an air ball on a heavily contested low-post baby hook. "Oh, I got fouled," he said. "I don't shoot no air ball."
Georgia won it two minutes later. Trailing 65-60, UK set up a three-point shot for Prince during a television timeout at the 3:22 mark. Wide open, he missed.
Georgia quickly got the rebound upcourt to Jarvis Hayes, who swished a three-pointer from in front of the Bulldogs' bench. That capped his 19-point game.
Or as teammate Ezra Williams noted, "That crushed them."
As if Kentucky wasn't already buried by its missed shots.