Date story published: Monday, March 3, 2003
ATHENS, Ga. -- After three days filled with accusations of rule-breaking and academic fraud, Georgia needed a feel-good victory yesterday.
With five minutes to go, the Bulldogs were in position to upset No. 2 Kentucky.
Instead, UK's defense, which did not rest on the Sabbath, denied Georgia the respite.
Led by quicksilver guard Cliff Hawkins, Kentucky rode clutch defense to a 74-66 win.
The Cats forced four straight turnovers with the game on the line and limited Georgia to two relatively harmless baskets in the final 6:26.
That defensive effort, combined with rebound domination, enabled Kentucky to extend the nation's longest active winning streak to 18 straight -- the school's second longest since Rupp's Runts won 23 straight in 1965-66. UK also improved its overall record to 24-3 and 14-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
When asked about Kentucky's defensive stand, sad-eyed Georgia Coach Jim Harrick quietly said, "They're undefeated in the league for a reason."
Georgia had been undefeated at home -- 11-0 -- until Kentucky came to town. The Bulldogs, who since Thursday evening lived in a world polluted by former teammate Tony Cole's potentially poisonous allegations, slipped to 17-8 overall and 9-5 in the SEC.
Humiliated 87-67 at Kentucky in February, Georgia showed no ill effects from Cole's charges. The Bulldogs played with pride and determination in limiting UK to 40.7-percent shooting.
Georgia actually squeezed ahead 54-53 on Ezra Williams' putback with 6:26 left.
But mostly, Williams and fellow wing Jarvis Hayes, Georgia's leading scorers, made little scoring impact. The two combined to make only 10 of 29 shots.
"That's our game plan," Gerald Fitch said. "Take the wings away."
By now, Chuck Hayes added, habit puts UK's defenders in the proper position.
"We have a knack to it," he said. "It's automatic. It becomes a routine. Somewhat natural. When someone gets beat, you close on the guy. You make them score over two people instead of one."
With the game on the line and the Williams/Hayes tandem contained, Georgia floundered. Point guard Rashad Wright, who had committed only 21 turnovers in his previous 13 SEC games, equaled his season-high with five miscues. He was part of two in the 90-second stretch that saw Georgia turn it over four times.
On the first, Wright telegraphed a pass to Steve Thomas that UK's Chuck Hayes swiped. On the other, Wright zigged as teammate Chris Daniels zagged with a pass that went out of bounds.
Hawkins twice separated the ball from Thomas between the two Wright turnovers.
"That's Cliff Hawkins at his best," teammate Chuck Hayes said. "He's always putting his hand in there, irritating the other guy."
"My teammates helped me by denying the ball," Hawkins said. "That made Thomas handle the guy you want handling the ball."
Kentucky eased ahead 62-54 while Georgia repeatedly turned the ball over.
"We just buckled," Jarvis Hayes said. "We fell apart in the last four minutes."
What chance Georgia had of pulling out the victory disappeared with 2:13 left.
That's when the referees whistled Jarvis Hayes for his fifth foul for pushing Chuck Hayes while rebounding a missed free throw.
Asked how hard he pushed the UK player, Jarvis Hayes said, "I didn't push him. The ball bounced back and I just jumped up and got it."
Chuck Hayes (no relation) all but verified the Georgia star's account.
"Hey, the ref called it," the UK player said. "That was crucial. (Jarvis Hayes is) the leading scorer and top player in the SEC, if not country."
Without Jarvis Hayes, who came into the game averaging 18.4 points, Fitch sensed victory.
"I think Georgia's confidence went down a little bit," the UK guard said.
The fifth foul -- whether real or imagined -- capped a frustrating game for Georgia.
The Bulldogs worked diligently to get UK center Marquis Estill in foul trouble. Four fouls limited Estill to 25 minutes.
"I don't think they're nearly the team without Estill," Harrick said. "I'd like to play them without Estill."
Chuck Hayes picked up the slack with his fifth double-double of the season (15 points and 12 rebounds).
"They've got a fantastic rebounding team," Harrick said of the Cats, who won the rebounding battle 50-32. "They just beat us really badly on the boards."
With the game on the line, Kentucky beat Georgia with defense.