Date story published: Sunday, February 13, 2005
The only suspense in Kentucky's 60-51 victory over Georgia yesterday was whether the control truck Jefferson-Pilot Sports needed to televise the game would arrive in time.
Alas, the truck made it.
No. 5 (in the country) Kentucky couldn't avoid beating No. 12 (in the Southeastern Conference) Georgia, which was down to more walk-ons (six) than healthy scholarship players (four) for the final 11 minutes. But oh how UK tried.
To breathe life into his team, UK Coach Tubby Smith tried the old reliable mass substitution at the first TV timeout. "They weren't doing anything," he said of the starters.
Somewhat aroused, the Cats built a 21-point lead midway through the second half, then nearly gave it away. At home against Georgia, which lost its leading healthy scorer (10.8 ppg), freshman Channing Toney, to a hip injury with 11 minutes left, UK saw its lead reduced to 55-50 with two minutes left.
With Georgia forced to play freshman walk-on Blake Davenport, for the first time all season in the final minute, Kentucky inexplicably kept hoisting shots rather than use the clock as an ally.
"He told us he was ashamed to coach us," senior forward Chuck Hayes said of Smith's assessment. "That he knows he's done a better job than this. He's put in too much time and work for it to be like this."
Reserve forward Bobby Perry blamed an overconfidence, perhaps borne from a 76-55 victory at Georgia last month or Georgia's 1-12 SEC road record since 2003 coming into Rupp Arena.
"A team like Georgia, not as deep, not as talented, you have slippage in your mind-set," Perry said. "(The Cats thought) 'We're going to be more talented than those guys. We can just show up.' "
Kentucky, which improved to 19-2 and thus matched the best 21-game start in Smith's eight seasons, quickly caused its coach to fret.
Smith cited Kelenna Azubuike's miss on a fast-break layup in the opening minute as a danger sign.
"In the first half, we missed four or five shots near the basket, maybe more than that," the UK coach said. "That's when you know you're not jumping with the same energy level. Then we didn't screen anyone. We were scared to screen anybody."
UK took the lead for good when Lukasz Obrzut made two free throws with 13:17 left in the first half. The Cats extended the lead to as much as 13 late in the half. The Cats led 29-20 at halftime, yet Perry said, "A team like we have, the lead should have been 20 points."
Belatedly, perhaps, a Patrick Sparks' three-pointer put UK ahead 46-25 with 11:58 left.
Yet Georgia used three three-pointers to gradually reduce the margin to 55-50 when center Dave Bliss, one of the Bulldogs' four freshman starters, made a layup with 2:04 left.
The E-Rupption Zone, UK's courtside student section, treated the Cats like so many Matt Walshes. When Ravi Moss and Perry miscommunicated on a pass, a student yelled, "C'mon Cats, wake up!"
When Georgia crept within 53-42, a student yelled at the players, "Stop playing like garbage." Then another student called to Smith, "Get mad, Tubby!"
Strangely, Smith, who often whips off his suit coat, glares and/or stomps his foot to show displeasure, sat impassively.
Perry explained. "Sometimes you're so mad words can't express it," he said. "Your actions can't express it. I think Coach was in that state."
Georgia, which outrebounded UK 37-29 (the margin was 44-18 in UK's favor at Athens last month), grew emboldened.
"We made them a little bit uptight," Bliss said, "a little worried (by how) we were storming back."
Added guard Sundiata Gaines, who led Georgia with 13 points, "We took advantage of 'lack-of-luster' defense."
However, with the lead at 57-51, Hayes blocked Gaines' desperate driving attempt.
UK sandwiched two questionable plays around Hayes' block. Leading by six with less than 90 seconds left, Rajon Rondo drove and threw up a contested shot with 26 seconds left on the shot clock.
After Hayes' block, Azubuike aggressively drove into the lane on the break rather than slow the pace and work the clock. Georgia bailed him out by fouling.
"That showed our mind-set was not into the game, from the starting tap to the final buzzer," Perry said of the quick shots. "Our mind-set was not there taking shots like that after knowing the time and score."