UK Men's Basketball

Bulldogs won't roll over, Cal says

Georgia received a last-place vote from every participant in the Southeastern Conference pre-season media poll. Such dismissive unanimity hadn't happened to a team since at least 1997-98.

But Kentucky Coach John Calipari said that Georgia has climbed out of this 25-vote burial and become a "scary" opponent for the SEC opener on Saturday.

"These are the games that are scary because you know they're good enough to beat us," Calipari said on Friday. "You hope the team understands they're good enough to beat us and we'll have to play one of our better games to beat them."

Predicting a close game, Calipari said he would try to instill fear of Georgia in his players. He probably should not mention that Georgia finished last in the SEC Eastern Division last season and in five of the past six seasons.

Calipari has an ally in Jimmy Dykes, the ESPN college basketball analyst who works SEC games.

"Georgia won't be easy after beating Georgia Tech like that," Dykes said of the Bulldogs' 73-66 victory over No. 20 Georgia Tech on Tuesday. "Georgia, they're not going to win the league or anything like that. But I think they're going to beat some people.

"They're better than they were last year, I know that."

Georgia's first-year coach, Mark Fox, used the 25 last-place votes as a tool in convincing his players to concentrate on fundamentally sound basketball.

"We let this team know they can have success if they play the game the right way," Fox said. "They didn't have to be what everybody picked them to be. But they have to go out and earn that. Just because they don't agree with it doesn't mean it's going to change."

Georgia players apparently did not immediately embrace the philosophy of we're-not-that-good-so-we-better-maximize-what-we-have.

"We weren't very good early," Fox said. "I don't think we quite accepted the limitations we had. I don't think we were really willing to accept those.

"Recently, we figured out, 'OK, he (Fox) may be right. We have to play a certain way to give ourselves a chance.' "

Victories over Illinois and Georgia Tech bolstered the coach's argument.

"As a coach, when they do everything you tell them to do, you need it to work out," Fox said.

As Fox suggested at SEC Media Day in October, Georgia is not good enough to simply play one way. "If we played the same way every time, we'd have our limitations exposed," he said.

So the Bulldogs might change primary defenses game to game, might be more aggressive against some opponents, more conservative against others.

An effort to control tempo has been a constant.

The improvement of forward Trey Thompkins has been a key. He ranks among the SEC's top 10 in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg).

"They really have Thompkins playing a lot better, playing a lot harder," Dykes said. "To me, they look like they're enjoying the game more. They really play hard."

UK forward Perry Stevenson likened Thompkins to the Cats' star freshman big man, DeMarcus Cousins.

"Good big men who can shoot," Stevenson said. "Physical. Good feet. And both can handle the ball. It should be interesting to see them play."

Inconsistent guard play has been a problem for Georgia. The Bulldogs rank 11th out of 12 SEC teams in assists (12.23 per game), turnover margin (-1.85) and assist-to-turnover margin (12.2-14.7).

In three previous games on the opponent's home court, Georgia has lost all three by an average of 18.7 points.

"We've played terrible on the road," Fox said. "We haven't had the right approach. We haven't understood quite yet how to play on the road."

Before one of the losses (either 72-56 at UAB or 74-62 at Virginia Tech or 89-61 at Missouri), some of the Georgia players forgot to pack their shoes. "For me, it's mind-boggling," Fox said.

Calipari expects Georgia to pack their shoes and their best game for the Kentucky trip.

After noting how UK had used the semester break to work on two or three weaknesses, the UK coach refused to reveal what those weaknesses were. He didn't want to tip off supposedly lowly Georgia.

" 'Mark, let me tell you exactly where we're weak,' " Calipari said facetiously. " 'You attack these three areas, you'll beat us.' "

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