Date story published: Wednesday, January 7, 1998
ATHENS, Ga. - For the 16th time in the schools' last 17 games, Kentucky beat Georgia. But, of course, UK's 90-79 victory at Georgia was anything but routine.
Saul Smith, UK's excitable young man and freshman backup point guard, scored a career-high 12 points. Yet, his father, UK Coach Tubby Smith, tempered his enthusiasm. Saul's success came, in part, at the expense of Tubby's older son, Georgia point guard G.G. Smith. Not to mention that he coached Georgia the last two seasons.
"I don't feel much ecstasy at all," the UK coach said. "It was a good win for us. But when you're competing against your friends and family, it's tough."
The coach's wife, Donna Smith, who sat behind the Kentucky bench, expressed mixed feelings, too.
"I was nervous the entire time," she said. "But I was proud the entire time. It was tough, tough. I thought I handled it pretty well."
The game left G.G. Smith more bitter than sweet. Never mind that his brother played well. "It was nice to see him out there," G.G. Smith said. "I was real surprised he did a good job."
The defeat, especially Kentucky's utter control of the entire game, stung.
"That's two years in a row Kentucky's come down here and embarrassed us," G.G. said. "We have to take that to heart. We have to make a stand."
Any chance of the Smith family reunion (a.k.a. Kentucky-Georgia) getting all warm and fuzzy disappeared with Georgia's first basket.
Kentucky had the slow-starting Bulldogs on the ropes immediately. Then G.G. Smith hit a badly needed three-pointer with 15:36 left. His father, the UK coach, clenched his fists and stared daggers at the defender, Wayne Turner.
The game got heated on several occasions. But UK's victory was not a testament to superior toughness or a more intimidating game. The Cats, 13-2 overall and 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference, simply showed themselves to be better basketball players.
Allen Edwards and Turner scored better than ever. Each had a career high, 20 for Turner and 19 for Edwards.
Georgia, 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the SEC, looked confused much of the game.
"It wasn't emotional at all," Georgia Coach Ron Jirsa said of the Smith reunion subplot. "It was just another game for us against a good team. We just got whipped by Kentucky. That's pretty much the whole story."
The Smith reunion had its moments. When Tubby Smith first walked onto the floor 16 minutes before tipoff, boos could clearly be heard. But mostly he worked the crowd like a seasoned - and popular - politician. He shook hands. He hugged Georgia fans. He posed for pictures.
The Smith brothers' head-to-head play was limited. But with 8:32 left in the first half, their paths crossed. Saul Smith, UK's backup point guard, dogged his older brother, G.G. Smith, downcourt. Finally, Saul Smith was called for a foul. Saul protested by making his arm look like a flapping chicken wing (he thought G.G. pushed off).
That prompted a Georgia student to shout, "Put on your diaper, Saul."
Saul Smith proved old enough to handle the hype under pressure. He gave the Cats the nine-point halftime cushion - UK's largest lead in the opening half - by coolly drilling a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds left.
The shot typified a half in which Kentucky seemed a step quicker physically and a synapse quicker mentally.
Helped in part by another slow Georgia start, Kentucky broke out of its recent habit of stumbling out of the gate. In last weekend's demoralizing loss at Auburn, the Bulldogs missed their first six shots and fell behind 18-3 at the start.
It wasn't that bad against Kentucky. Still, the Cats zipped ahead 9-1 in the first four minutes. Georgia missed its first three shots and had as many turnovers in its seven possessions.
The great equalizer - the three-point shot - enabled Georgia to get back in the game. Two bombs by G.G. Smith and one by Michael Chadwick got the Bulldogs within 11-10.
Georgia got no closer.
Georgia made repeated runs at the Cats in the second half but never got closer than five.