Date story published: Sunday, March 16, 2008
ATLANTA -- Kentucky overcame a lot this season. But a tornado, a short night's sleep, scrambled reformation of the Southeastern Conference Tournament format, lack of the usual Cat-mosphere, Ramel Bradley's poor shooting, an inspired opponent, a gutsy freshman's clutch shot and Billy Gillispie's coaching gaffe proved too much to overcome.
Georgia outlasted Kentucky 60-56 in overtime on Saturday.
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Freshman Zac Swansey hit a three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to give Georgia a 57-56 lead. He hit the shot over Ramon Harris, UK's best perimeter defender. Harris made Swansey eat up precious seconds changing direction three times as the freshman dribbled upcourt. But on the final change, Harris anticipated Swansey handing the ball off to junior Billy Humphrey.
Instead, Swansey pivoted and fired from the right side to put Georgia ahead 57-56 with 1.2 seconds left. It had to be the biggest shot in a young college career for a player who had made 19 percent of his three-point attempts against SEC teams this season.
When asked how many spinning three-pointers he'd ever made, Swansey laughed and said, "Not many. I think the only time you do that is in a gym shooting by yourself. You work on stuff like that. Not really a typical game shot."
Georgia, which improved to 15-16 and kept its flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive, sealed the victory in bizarre fashion. After Michael Porter inbounded a pass over Bradley and out of bounds, Kentucky fouled walk-on Corey Butler before Georgia could put the ball in play. Butler, an 82.8-percent free thrower, hit the first free throw with 1.2 seconds left.
Then, shockingly, Perry Stevenson goaltended the second free throw. That was a technical foul. Butler was awarded the free throw. Then Humphrey made one of two technical free throws to set the final score.
"It was a plan," Stevenson said. The Cats did not want Georgia to purposefully miss, thus giving UK only a second or so to rebound and get off a shot. UK wanted to give Georgia the point, but have a chance to set up an inbounds play for a tying three-point shot.
When asked what he expected to achieve, Stevenson said, "Not a technical."
Gillispie took the blame. "I didn't know the rule," the UK coach said. "I didn't know it was an automatic technical. So that's my fault on that."
The odd finish punctuated a predictable defensive struggle.
Only once this season (the 41-point blowout loss at Vanderbilt) did Kentucky shoot poorer than the 35.3-percent accuracy against Georgia. Ramel Bradley, UK's all-conference guard, made only four of 17 shots (1-for-6 from three-point range).
"Let's give Georgia credit," Gillispie said after noting that Bradley, who missed nine of his first 10 shots, made two straight down the stretch of regulation. "They played great defense. It was a very physical game on both ends, and it was hard to catch the ball. It was hard to do anything with the ball."
That the teams played marked a victory for the SEC. The tornado that hit Atlanta Friday night drove the SEC Tournament from the Georgia Dome to Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech.
The announced crowd of 1,458 -- the fewest to ever attend a Kentucky game? -- watched an unsparing, if hardly pretty, competition. The teams combined for 16 assists and 30 turnovers.
After firing up seven three-pointers in its first nine shots, UK attacked the basket relentlessly. "We started being aggressive and started getting calls," Harris said. Joe Crawford led the way with a game-high 24 points.
Georgia had to play overtime without its team leader, point guard Sundiata Gaines. He fouled out with 1:33 left in regulation. Hounded by Harris, he was limited to nine shots and 16 points. A surprise was Terrance Woodbury, who led Georgia with 17 points after making only nine of 31 shots against UK in the regular season.
Bradley, who added 12 points as the only other double-digit scorer, put UK ahead 56-54 with a foul-line jumper.
Then Swansey, who replaced Gaines, hit the big three-pointer to show Georgia the way to a second straight overtime victory in the SEC Tournament.
The shot inspired a post-game news conference question about magic, a commodity in Kentucky's possession much of this season, belonging to Georgia this day.
"Well, I think it's a lot more grit and toughness and sweat than anything about magic," Georgia Coach Dennis Felton said.