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Date story published: Thursday, February 15, 1996

Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino called it "a rut," and he didn't mean the similar scripts played out in this season's two UK-Georgia games.

The Cats' 86-73 victory last night bore a strong resemblance to the game the two teams played at Georgia last month. Kentucky takes command. Georgia rallies. Kentucky holds on.

By "rut," Pitino said, he meant what he termed a perfectly understandable mid-February lapse. A string of blowout victories this season set a standard that made what looked like a lapse inevitable.

"We've got to get everybody out of the mind set of (needing to) blow everybody out," Pitino said. "That's killing this team. Everybody's sitting there in judgment, waiting for a blowout. . . . We just need to play basketball and not get frustrated."

Georgia's physical play contributed greatly to -- horror of horrors -- a close game. "The blowout at Vanderbilt came because they didn't guard us well," Pitino said. "The other teams -- (Arkansas Sunday and Georgia last night) -- guarded us well."

Pitino promised a lineup change to get Kentucky out of the rut. Junior Anthony Epps will replace freshman Wayne Turner at point guard. Sophomore reserve Allen Edwards will get more playing time.

"We're going to go with the players that play the best defense and the smartest offense," Pitino said.

Not so coincidently, Kentucky held off Georgia with its top two scorers, Tony Delk and Antoine Walker, sitting the bench.

"They were making plays for themselves," Pitino said. "With (Georgia's) trapping defense, we needed people to make plays for each other."

Kentucky had Georgia down by as many as 22 points early in the second half. Georgia got within eight points with almost four minutes left and as close as six with 1:17 left.

"I'm disappointed with the loss," Georgia Coach Tubby Smith said, "but I'm not really upset."

Kentucky improved to 21-1 overall and 11-0 in the Southeastern Conference. The victory was UK's 20th straight, which enabled the Cats to become one of six Kentucky teams to ever win that many consecutive games in a single season.

Georgia, which can claim the two closest margins of defeat to Kentucky in the SEC this season, fell to 14-8 overall and 5-7 in the SEC. Kentucky won 82-77 at Georgia on Jan. 24.

Mark Pope led Kentucky with 16 points and 11 rebounds. It marked the second straight double-double for Pope, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds against Arkansas.

Georgia, which rallied from a first-half deficit to nearly beat Kentucky last month, put itself in the same position last night. Despite a slow start, Kentucky claimed a 45-28 halftime lead.

An energized Pope led Kentucky's first-half assault. Pope nearly had his double-double in the first 20 minutes: eight points and eight rebounds. His post-up basket gave the Cats their first lead, 15-14, with 12:08 left.

His next basket gave Kentucky the lead for good and typified UK's aggressive attitude inside. Pope ripped a rebound from a Georgia player and made a layup that put the Cats ahead 17-16.

Foul trouble hurt Georgia. The Bulldogs -- already thin up front -- lost center Terrell Bell with two fouls at the 12:23 mark. Forward Carlos Strong picked up his second and went to the bench with 9:42 left.

"Whenever we get in (foul) trouble early, we have problems," Smith said.

Kentucky rewarded Pope by starting him in the second half. The move helped UK expand its lead to 22 points. Pope's three-pointer started the second-half scoring.

Later, he somehow muscled in a layup as he fell to the floor with two Georgia defenders. That shot gave the Cats a 54-32 lead with 17:14 left.

But as in Athens last month, Georgia kept fighting. Three-point baskets -- four in the final six minutes -- fueled the comeback. "They made some tough threes," Pitino said. "We didn't play bad defense on the three-point shots."

Georgia closed to within 68-56 when G.G. Smith, the coach's son, hit a three-pointer.

Freshman Ray Harrison's driving layup reduced Kentucky's lead to 70-61. That prompted a 20-second UK timeout with 4:27 left.

Georgia got within 72-64 when Pertha Robinson made a three-pointer.

Another Robinson three-pointer reduced the UK lead to 76-69, and Georgia closed to within 77-71 on two Katu Davis free throws with 1:12 left.

After the shots, UK called timeout because Walter McCarty couldn't inbound the ball.

Georgia got no closer in a late run of rushed jumpers and fouls that provided Kentucky a cushion.