Date story published: Wednesday, January 15, 1997
ATHENS, Ga. - For all the pre-game talk of basketball styles, Kentucky's 86-65 victory over Georgia last night was anything but stylish.
Oh, UK and the Dogs each played their signature athletic uptempo styles - known as "Pitinoball" in the Bluegrass and "Tubbyball" where Georgia pines grow.
But defense - down and dirty (in the good sense) - prevailed this night. And Kentucky's was superior. Georgia didn't get its 10th basket until 7:52 remained in the game. Larry Brown, a tight end on Georgia's football team, banked in a put-back. His basket represented Georgia's first points since G.G. Smith made a free throw with 14:07 left.
By the time Brown scored, UK had its 25th straight victory against a team from the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division in hand.
The Cats last lost to a team from the SEC East on March 5, 1994 (75-74 at South Carolina). And it appeared it would take Georgia about that long to reach its seasonal scoring average of 73.2 points. The Dawgs did well to avoid their most lopsided loss to Kentucky in Rick Pitino's eight seasons (97-74 here March 1, 1995).
Coming back strong - at least defensively - from Saturday's loss at Mississippi, No. 5 Kentucky improved to 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. The Cats avoided their first back-to-back losses since Feb. 9 and 12, 1994. (There have only been three instances when UK has lost two straight games since Pitino's first season as coach in 1989-90.)
Georgia, which had won 18 of 19 home games in Tubby Smith's two seasons as coach, fell to 12-3 overall and 1-2 in the league.
The first half proved one of Pitino's pet philosophies correct. A struggling offense need not be fatal. Solid defense can point such a team toward victory.
UK made only 13 of 32 first-half shots. But the Cats still held a formidable 40-26 halftime lead.
Kentucky's man-to-man defense held Georgia to only seven baskets in a seven-for-26 half of shooting. UK also took four charges and blocked two shots in an on-its-toes performance. The Dawgs' struggling offense reached its nadir when junior college transfer Derrick Dukes missed a driving dunk when he took off too far from the basket.
Other than Michael Chadwick, Georgia struggled to get the ball in the basket. Chadwick, the SEC's player of the week for the Christmas holiday period, scored Georgia's first three baskets. No other Dawg scored until freshman Adrian Jones banked in a shot from 10 feet in front of the basket at the 11:36 mark.
By then, Kentucky had opened up a 16-7 lead.
Derek Anderson's return to form triggered UK's quick start. He hit his first three shots - a jumper off a Nazr Mohammed screen, a fastbreak pull-up three-pointer and another pull-up in transition.
Unfortunately, Anderson completed his return to form by getting into his customary first-half foul trouble. He picked up his second foul and departed with 11:48 left. He did not return.
UK did not miss him, at least not defensively. Georgia scored only one basket in the final 9:09 of the half. In that time, the Cats extended a 21-15 lead to as much as a 16-point cushion down the stretch.
Sophomore guard Wayne Turner enjoyed a memorable flurry of defense in the final minutes. His steal and driving layup put UK ahead 33-22 with 2:37 left. He got an easy one on the next possession. He took G.G. Smith's blind cross-court pass and cruised to a layup.
On the next possession, Turner made yet another steal. This time he fed Anthony Epps for a three-pointer. The Turner-generated 7-0 run gave UK its largest lead, 38-22.
The Cats closed out the half with a bit of offense. Ron Mercer, who had missed seven of his previous nine shots, hit a 19-footer at the buzzer to give Kentucky its 14-point halftime lead.
Except for mounting fouls, Kentucky encountered no significant problem in the second half. The Cats picked up their 10th foul with 14:07 left in the game
But Georgia never got its offense untracked nor reduced the Kentucky lead to single digits.