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UK Lead Dwindles but Never Disappears

Date story published: Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A blowout became a test of nerves, which returned Kentucky to familiar turf.

The Cats kept gritty Georgia at bay down the stretch to win 61-55 Tuesday night.

The victory improved Kentucky's records to 14-10 overall and 8-3 in the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia fell to 12-12 overall, 3-8 in the league and 0-5 on the road in the SEC.

Joe Crawford, who has averaged 20 points a game against Georgia in his career, led UK with 23. Patrick Patterson added 20 points and nine rebounds. Shrugging off a 4-for-13 shooting night, Ramel Bradley chipped in eight points and 12 rebounds, which tied a career high.

Terrance Woodbury led Georgia with 15 points. Sundiata Gaines, Georgia's do-everything senior guard, struggled against tight defense to score 10 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out six assists.

Kentucky opened a 37-30 halftime lead.

The Cats came into the game like a lion, roaring to a 20-4 lead inside the first seven minutes.

But UK went out like a lamb, as Georgia closed within three points late in the game.

"We got fooled into thinking it was going to be a little easier than it was," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. "We didn't handle things well mentally. Too many bonehead plays."

Good shooting, primarily by Crawford from long range and Patterson in the paint, enabled Kentucky to take a commanding early lead. Crawford made his first three shots, all from three-point range, to help UK take an 11-2 lead with 17:21 left.

Georgia called timeout two seconds later to consider its plight.

The three early threes, all coming against a Georgia zone packed near the lane, represented more made shots from beyond the arc than Crawford had in 14 earlier games this season and in 90 of his career games for Kentucky. As if playing the school-yard game "around-the-world," Crawford hit from the left wing, the right corner and from NBA length at the right wing.

Crawford finished the half with four three-pointers (one shy of a career high) and 14 points.

"I felt I wasn't going to miss," Crawford said with a laugh. When asked whether Georgia's zone led him to look for the three early, Crawford said, "I was thinking 'Don't fall in love with the three. Look to drive.' I was wide open, so I took it."

Georgia slowed Crawford by switching to a man-to-man.

"We need Joe to play like that all the time," Gillispie said. "I wish he'd have gone for 40 tonight."

Crawford seconded that thought, saying, "I'd like to see myself get 40."

Meanwhile, Patterson worked well inside. Despite Georgia's zone, the freshman found plenty of room to operate. He made five of eight shots and finished the half with 14 points, seven rebounds and a bandage on the side of his right eye. A Dave Bliss elbow required three stitches to close a cut near the eye. Patterson also turned an ankle late in the first

The UK lead grew to as much as 20-4 when Bradley made a fast-break layup with 13:01 left.

Just when it seemed UK might breeze to a rare easy victory, Georgia rallied. Woodbury led the charge. He hit a season-high three three-pointers in an 11-point half. His third trey reduced UK's lead to 31-28 with 3:03 left.

Kentucky achieved its first double-digit lead of the second half on a pretty play. Bradley whipped a fast-break bounce pass that Patterson caught and dunked. That put the lead at 52-41 and prompted a Georgia timeout with 10:31 left.

The Dogs scored the next six points and appeared primed to get closer. But freshman Jeremy Price missed a dunk set up by a Gaines pass.

Later, Gaines hit a three-pointer to reduce UK's lead to 55-52 with 6:26 left. That marked his first basket since the 8:54 mark of the first half.

Georgia had great opportunities to get closer. Woodbury missed an open three-pointer from the top of the key. After a timeout, Gaines launched a contested three from the left wing, but it was just long and bounced off the rim.

Bradley missed two free throws with 4:30 left. That matched the number of free throws he had missed all season in the final five minutes or overtime (53 of 55).

After the ball went out of bounds, Kentucky had one second left on the shot clock. A television timeout gave UK a chance to scheme. The result was Patterson's first three-point attempt since the Louisville game. He missed from the left corner, making him 0-for-3 on the season from that range.

But Bradley gathered the rebound in the lane and scored to put the Cats ahead 57-52 with 3:24 left.

Down the stretch, Georgia missed nine straight shots

"That's really good," Bradley said. "That's what's going to win basketball games: who makes the stops."