Date story published: Sunday, February 15, 2004
ATHENS, Ga. -- Kentucky had Georgia on its mind yesterday. And that was not a good thing.
For a second time this season, Georgia's physical style threw UK off kilter and careening toward defeat. A one-sided second half, which featured a pair of double technical fouls, gave Georgia a 74-68 victory and moved UK Coach Tubby Smith to use the S-word: Scared.
"Erik was running around scared to death," the UK coach said of forward Erik Daniels. "Then he's wondering why he didn't get the ball."
Smith seemed particularly irked with UK's front line of Chuck Hayes and Daniels. The two foundation stones for this Kentucky team scored only one basket in the second half.
When that happens, Smith said, "We can't win."
Hayes, Kentucky's most physical player, missed two layups and two free throws down the stretch. "You can't get any closer than that," Smith said. "Just ridiculous."
Particularly painful for Kentucky was that Georgia used the same scare tactics to win in Rupp Arena last month.
"We certainly knew what to expect," Smith said. "We didn't respond.
"I think it's mental. It's all mental. We can be tough in certain situations. But not enough against those guys."
Walk-on Ravi Moss put it in inelegant terms.
"They try to punk you out of what you're doing," he said. "Make us scared, soft and think before shooting, before we do anything. It reminds you of Dennis Rodman out there. They try to get under your skin."
Georgia forward Chris Daniels set the tone early. As the teams started to their benches at the first television timeout, he bumped UK point guard Cliff Hawkins, who responded with an elbow. Chris Daniels acknowledged the attempt to intimidate. "A little bit," he said. "Test them and see how they respond to it."
Kentucky responded for a while. With Kelenna Azubuike noticeably more aggressive, the Cats led much of the first half and won the rebounding battle, 19-17.
"I think it was clear they came into the game very intent on being the most aggressive team and the most physical team," Georgia Coach Dennis Felton said of Kentucky. "And I thought they were at the beginning."
Spearheaded by point guard Rashad Wright, who terrorized UK's backup point guards, Georgia's defense set the tone the second half.
"That should make you 'bow up and be a little more aggressive," Smith said. "That didn't happen. That hasn't happened yet."
Hawkins credited Georgia's game plan. "We didn't get the post position we usually do," he said. "That's our bread and butter."
UK, which fell to 17-4 overall and 7-3 in the Southeastern Conference, competed to the end. Clearly disliking each other, the two teams called six timeouts in the final 65 seconds trying to win. Georgia, 12-10 overall and 4-7 in the SEC, didn't secure the victory until Wright made nine of 12 free throws in the final 1:03.
Kentucky came tantalizingly close to pulling out another of its miracle victories. Twice down the stretch, Hayes missed from point-blank range. Trailing 61-53, he got the ball at the basket, looked over his shoulder for a defender and then missed a layup.
After a Hawkins three-point play got UK within 61-56, Hayes missed again. This time he stole the ball out of the press at the baseline, but missed a driving layup over a Georgia defender attempting to take a charge.
"Somebody doesn't love me or I've not got the right touch," Hayes said before adding, "On both of those, I expected to get fouled hard and it took my concentration off the rim."
Wright, who was coming off a sprained left ankle that sidelined him at Vanderbilt earlier in the week, made only one of 14 shots. Georgia's point guard only had one assist.
But his one basket was big: a three-pointer that tied it at 43 midway through the second half. More important, he dominated with a floor game that included four steals and only one turnover in 38 minutes.
"His defensive presence controlled the game," Smith said of Wright. "Their whole team, Georgia played good solid defense. We didn't step up to the challenge."