Date story published: Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Georgia stood up to Kentucky last night. Then again, the condemned stand up to a firing squad.
Despite an opponent willing to put up a fight, Kentucky hammered Georgia on the backboards and the scoreboards.
UK won 87-67 to stretch its winning streak to 13 games, the longest single-season streak in Tubby Smith's six seasons.
Georgia, a veteran team that swept two games from the Cats last season, avoided the indignity of not scoring at least 10 baskets in both halves. Five of UK's seven most recent opponents had not achieved that.
Still, except for the game's opening basket, Kentucky never trailed in handing Georgia its worst defeat since the 2000-2001 season.
"We're having fun," forward Chuck Hayes said. "I don't know what the secret to our success is, but I'm loving it."
UK, which improved to 19-3 overall and 9-0 in the Southeastern Conference, used typically strong defense, unusually balanced offense and rebounding to batter a Georgia team that hadn't lost by more than six points all season.
"They just beat the living daylights out of us in every phase of the game," Georgia Coach Jim Harrick said. "I thought rebounding was the key. They played volleyball with us."
UK outrebounded Georgia 45-31, the Cats' second-largest margin of the season.
No. 20 Georgia, which fell to 13-7 overall and 5-4 in the league, stayed close for a while because of Jarvis Hayes. The all-league swingman made six of 10 shots in a 13-point first half. His basket total at intermission exceeded the four shots made by Vanderbilt in the second half last month and the five made by Alabama in each half. It equaled the six made by Florida and Auburn in first halves against the Cats.
Yet for looking UK eye to eye, Georgia still trailed 42-30 at intermission. Georgia collapsed under the weight of Kentucky's fun-filled month of momentum (eight straight victories by 15 or more points) early in the second half. After falling behind by as much as 31 points, the Dogs rallied late to make the final score semirespectable.
"They're really, really good," Harrick said. "They're doing everything well. Even Cliff Hawkins is shooting the three. Good Lord!"
Hawkins, a key Kentucky contributor this season but no long-range marksman, equaled a career high with three three-pointers and was one of six Cats in double figures.
A thorough beating made believers of Georgia.
"If I was in the writers' poll or the coaches' poll, they'd be No. 1," said Hayes, who finished with 17 points. "They're better than advertised."
Harrick asked for a mulligan on an earlier statement that Louisville deserved to be ranked higher than Kentucky because the Cardinals beat the Cats in December.
"They're the best team I've seen this year," the Georgia coach said of No. 3 Kentucky.
Even with Jarvis Hayes operating more efficiently against UK's defense than anyone in a long while, the Cats still led comfortably at the break.
UK repeatedly beat Georgia to loose balls and enjoyed a 20-12 rebounding advantage in the half. Center Marquis Estill had seven rebounds in the half, five coming on the offensive end and three resulting in put-back baskets. He finished with a double-double (a team-high 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds), as did Chuck Hayes (11 points and 10 rebounds).
Kentucky also shot well from the perimeter, making 11 of 23 three-point attempts.
The Cats trailed only 2-0. Fittingly, a layup by Jarvis Hayes gave Georgia its only lead.
UK scored the next nine points and threatened to make Georgia a third straight first-half knockout victim.
Reserve Damien Wilkins, the nephew of former Georgia star Dominique Wilkins, steadied the Dogs.
Then Jarvis Hayes prevented an early blowout by scoring nine of his points in the final 7:08 of the half. "He's a pro," UK Coach Tubby Smith said.
Yet Hayes only delayed the inevitable.
The kind of all-court excellence that typified Kentucky's winning streak broke the game open early in the second half.
Kentucky's defense swallowed Georgia. The Dogs made only three of their first 16 shots in the half. One of those baskets belonged to leading scorer Ezra Williams, who finally hit a shot with 13:40 left in the game.
"At some points of the game, they ran our offense," said Jarvis Hayes, who made only two of eight second-half shots. "They made us go to spots where we could go but not necessarily wanted to go. They controlled the tempo and controlled the game."