With seven healthy McDonald's All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky seems fully capable of absorbing the absence of Trey Lyles. After all, the Cats have carried on nicely after Alex Poythress tore an anterior cruciate ligament in mid December.
"We have a lot of players," Dakari Johnson said Monday. "It's that next-man-up mentality."
Unfortunately for Georgia, there is no next man, at least no one like Marcus Thornton. So the Bulldogs face the much more alarming prospect of being the team missing its leading scorer, rebounder, presence around the basket and leader on and off the court in Rupp Arena on Tuesday.
Kentucky saw opportunity in the possible absence of Lyles, who may sit out a second game because of an undisclosed illness. Maybe someone like sophomore Derek Willis, who acknowledged last month being perplexed by his lack of playing time, could get a chance to contribute.
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"I'm rooting for him to be able to do good when he enters into a game," Dominique Hawkins said.
During his turn on a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday morning, UK Coach John Calipari said of Lyles' status for the game against Georgia, "We don't believe he'll play. We don't know after that."
Lyles sat out UK's ho-hum handling of Alabama Saturday because of an undisclosed illness.
Calipari felt the need to tell listeners that UK would miss Lyles' contributions (7.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg). "We're never going to be as good without him because he's a good player," he volunteered.
Surely no one needed convincing that Georgia will miss Thornton, whose 13.5-point and 7.3-rebound averages only begin to indicate his importance to the team. Thornton has been experiencing concussion symptoms since taking a nasty fall against Vanderbilt last week. Without him, Georgia lost 67-50 at South Carolina last weekend.
For Georgia, the next man up is freshman Yante Maten, who scored three points and grabbed six rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes at South Carolina.
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin suggested Monday that Georgia is not the same team without Thornton.
"You can actually argue that Marcus Thornton is the most productive big guy in the conference ... ," he said. "He gives them a presence at the basket. From 15 feet in. Offensive rebounds. Post up. Dribble Drive. Toughness.
"Without him, they're asking a freshman to do the job. He makes a huge difference on their basketball team."
Georgia Coach Mark Fox noted Thornton's experience.
"Been through a lot of wars and personal battles with injuries," Fox said. "So he's a tough-minded kid. He's certainly a big part of what we do."
A fifth-year senior who is pursuing a Master's degree in Sports Management (his undergraduate degree was in Real Estate), Thornton had undergone three knee surgeries and dealt with a staph infection as a college player.
Thornton sat out all but nine games of the 2012-13 season and gained a medical redshirt because one of the knee surgeries.
"Last year, Marcus spent a lot of time just trying to regain confidence in his body," Fox said last month. "Not necessarily his game, but confidence in his body. And then to get back in a rhythm. ... He now has his confidence back in his body and he does a great job taking care of it. He has confidence to just physically measure up every night and that allowed him to just free his mind up of worrying about that and get back to focusing on playing."
SEC coaches attributed Thornton's productive senior season to his willingness to accept a role. "A lot of times, players want to be somebody they're not," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "And they don't play to their identity. ... When he's in that (role as strong man), he's really, really effective."
Then came the fall last Tuesday. As he rose for a layup in transition, Thornton took a hard foul from Vanderbilt's Josh Henderson. Thornton fell to the floor shoulders first. He got up immediately and made two free throws. He subsequently played 15 minutes in the second half. But after the game, he complained of headaches and nausea.
"He didn't get up and act all belligerent," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said admiringly. "... Marcus Thornton, to me, is a tough guy. He just got up and shook it off and kept going. He's a real genuine tough guy, to me.
"I think he's a real key to Georgia's success."
After the game at South Carolina, Fox spoke of Georgia being "disjointed" without Thornton. The Bulldogs needed to adapt. But, he said Monday, there can be no sweeping changes in the middle of conference play.
"Anything we'd try to do different would be subtle," Fox said.
If Lyles sits out the game, Kentucky need only push another button.
"We're fortunate," said assistant coach Barry Rohrssen, who substituted for Calipari at a news conference. "There are some other guys who can make some contribution."