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UK BLOWS LEAD DESPITE CRAWFORD'S CAREER NIGHT

Date story published: Thursday, January 25, 2007

ATHENS, Ga. -- Last night it was Kentucky's turn to squander a big lead.

Georgia, which lost at Alabama on Saturday after leading by as much as 19, overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to beat Kentucky 78-69 in overtime last night.

UK led by as much as 14 with less than 13 minutes remaining and by 11 with barely 10 minutes left in regulation. The Cats even scored the first basket of overtime.

And lost.

"We had the game won," said Joe Crawford, who scored that first overtime basket en route to a career-high 29 points. "We just didn't finish the game strong. We made stupid plays at the end."

Both coaches cited toughness as the difference. Georgia flexed its muscle in the second half. Kentucky did not.

"They out-toughed us and outfought us in just about every category," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "We were getting outrebounded and outworked in the second half."

Georgia outrebounded Kentucky 28-12 in the second half en route to a 43-31 advantage on the boards. The Bulldogs got 11 offensive rebounds in the second half.

"We thought we had the game won," Crawford said, "instead of going out and playing aggressively."

New inside presence Takais Brown led Georgia's charge, scoring 18 of his 20 points after halftime.

"Takais was huge," Georgia Coach Dennis Felton said. "He got us baskets inside. I think that bolstered our confidence."

Meanwhile, a Kentucky team that scored 43 points in the first 18 minutes added only 26 in the game's concluding 27 minutes.

Point guard Sundiata Gaines hit the crushing shot. With the Bulldogs nursing a 70-69 lead in overtime and the shot clock down to a final second, he fired up a three-point shot over the outstretched hand of Crawford. The banked three-pointer put Georgia ahead 73-69 with 1:44 left.

"Better than a turnover," a smiling Felton said of Gaines' shot. "I was hoping he'd be a little more aggressive turning the corner."

It was hard to fault Crawford's defense.

"That's a great shot, man," the UK guard said. "I played great defense. I thought I forced him into a forced shot."

UK, which lost its second straight game, fell to 15-5 overall and 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia improved to 12-6 overall and tied UK for second in the SEC Eastern Division at 4-2.

As the first half unfolded, Kentucky's first overtime game since the 94-88 loss to Michigan State in the 2005 NCAA Tournament seemed unlikely.

The Cats staged their second-best offensive half of the season in taking a 43-30 halftime lead. Only the 45 points against Tennessee-Chattanooga on Dec. 5 represented a bigger first-half point total for UK.

Crawford scored 15 first-half points to quickly make a distant memory of his 4-for-17 shooting against Vanderbilt last weekend. "I wish I could be happy," he said of his career night (previous high 23 on four occasions).

UK made 56.7 percent of its shots in the first half while limiting Georgia to 37.5 percent. "As bad a half as we've played all season," Felton said. "We toughened up. We played tougher. We got closer to playing typical Georgia basketball."

Foul trouble also contributed to Randolph Morris' six-point first half. He picked up his second foul with 6:05 left. Curiously, Smith kept Morris in the game even though UK led by 14. Morris picked up his third foul with 4:46 left.

That foul was part of a messy stretch for Kentucky. With the lead at its zenith (43-26), Smith put in four freshmen (Mark Coury, Derrick Jasper, Jodie Meeks and Michael Porter).

After three straight turnovers, Georgia closed within 43-30. Smith re-inserted the veterans with 1:09 left and prevented any further shrinkage of the lead.

Intermission did not interrupt Georgia's rally. After flinging up 15 three-point attempts in the first half, the Bulldogs went inside to Brown. He delivered six straight points to reduce the UK lead to 43-38.

Meeks, who scored 10 points, steadied Kentucky with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Less than 90 seconds later, Meeks hit another three-pointer to expand UK's lead to 50-38.

The margin grew to 52-38 before Georgia staged a serious charge that put Kentucky in the same uncomfortable position the Bulldogs found themselves in leaving Tuscaloosa Saturday night.

"We can't let this devastate us," Crawford said. "We have to show some character and bounce back."

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