Date story published: Thursday, February 1, 2001
ATHENS, Ga. -- The future was now for Kentucky. No more time for learning how difficult it can be to win on the road in the Southeastern Conference. No more time to be young and foolish.
"If we expect to challenge for the SEC championship, you have to do it now," UK Coach Tubby Smith told his team before it faced league-leading Georgia last night. "We can't wait."
To drive home the point, Smith made sure to sit next to his team leaders, Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans, in the busy pre-game locker room and quietly impress upon them what had to be done. And what they had to take a lead role in getting done.
"We talked about leadership," the UK coach said.
As if ordered up by central casting, Prince and Bogans led Kentucky to an exhilarating 85-70 victory over Georgia. The two became the first pair of Cats to get double-doubles in the same game since Jamaal Magloire and Jules Camara pulled the double-whammy on Georgia in Rupp Arena last season.
Better still, Prince (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Bogans (26 points, 11 rebounds) excelled in crunch time. With the ghosts of recent failures at crunch time hanging thick, Prince and Bogans led the Cats on a timely tour de force.
The tandem scored 21 of UK's final 27 points. The Cats outscored Georgia 17-4 in the final four minutes.
UK proved it could win on the road, execute in crunch time and come through when it mattered most.
"If we lose this game, we go 4-3 (in the SEC)," point guard Saul Smith said. "Man, that's digging us a really, really big hole. And we throw the shovel away. We can't dig our way out."
Kentucky, which improved to 12-7 overall and 5-2 in the SEC, did not put together a seamless 40-minute performance. The Cats held true to their inconsistent form in the first half. Crisp early, UK had only one turnover in the first eight minutes and took the initiative.
Then UK got careless with the ball and rushed shots. Georgia led by as many as nine points before settling for a 35-29 halftime lead.
One stat jumped from the halftime box score: UK had only one assist and 11 turnovers.
"I looked at that stat and thought, 'Are they sure?' " Saul Smith said.
"We really challenged them at halftime," Tubby Smith said. "We felt they were being -- not selfish -- but just not looking for the extra pass."
Prince and Bogans had not responded in the first half. Each had made only three of nine shots.
The start of the second half only compounded Kentucky's problems. Georgia center Anthony Evans scored three-point plays inside on the Dogs' first two possessions. UK center Jason Parker picked up his third and fourth fouls and departed with 19:07 left. UK stared at its first double-digit deficit, 41-31.
"It looked pretty bleak," Tubby Smith said.
A 3-2 zone defense -- an idea Tubby Smith credited his assistants with suggesting -- helped stem the tide. "We really haven't played a lot of zone," Tubby Smith said. "People really have picked us apart."
Georgia made only three shots in a seven-minute span. That set the stage for Prince and Bogans.
"I was very pleased and very excited to see Tayshaun and Keith both step up in crunch time," Tubby Smith said, "especially after they struggled in the first half. I thought they played with a lot of heart in the second half. That tells me a lot about their fortitude (and) their moxie."
Bogans scored nine of his 26 points in the final 8:12. His fast-break layup while being clubbed by Georgia's Ezra Williams put the Cats ahead 66-62 with 6:27 left. It was part of a stretch in which UK scored on 11 of its final 13 possessions.
Prince flashed his versatility in scoring 12 of his 23 points in the final 7:02. He posted up for three baskets. He hit a three-pointer to put UK ahead for good, 64-62, with 7:02 left. He made three of three free throws. He blocked a shot.
When Georgia closed within 70-68, Prince drove for a basket while being fouled by Shon Coleman. The three-pointer put the Cats ahead 73-68 with 3:21 left.
It was easy to forget that a year ago here Prince was outplayed by Coleman (26 points, 12 rebounds). This time Coleman struggled with fouls and managed only eight points and five rebounds.
"This was the fourth time playing him," Prince said. "I know pretty much what he likes to do. I kept my body off him. When he gets his body on you, then he can move you around."
Georgia scored only four points in the final 4:28, only 24 points in the final 16:58.
"I thought we hit the wall with 15 minutes left," Georgia Coach Jim Harrick said. "Once you do that, you can't do anything."
Tubby Smith admitted he wondered if his team might hit the same wall in this intense, but cleanly-played game. Except for alternating Marquis Estill and Marvin Stone in at center, the UK coach stuck with what was working down the stretch. That was Prince, Bogans, freshman Erik Daniels and Saul Smith.
Asked if he wondered about those players getting fatigued, Tubby Smith said, "Very much so. One thing we (the coaches) kept talking about was how long can they keep going?"
All the way to the SEC championship, it appeared.