UK Men's Basketball

Bulldogs bring out the beast

Less than three minutes into the game, Georgia guard Travis Leslie rose high in transition and threw down a one-handed dunk in DeMarcus Cousins' face.

The Rupp Arena crowd oohed and aahed, leaving Kentucky's freshman big man in need of a disguise (his trademark Peter Parker glasses? his ushanka hat?) to avoid being identified as the poor guy who got poster-ized.

Seven minutes into the second half, a hard Georgia foul sent another of Cousins' trademark fashion statements, his headband, flying. After retrieving his sweaty crown, he angrily flung it to the UK bench.

Teammate Patrick Patterson saw a statement being made. "You're waking up the sleeping giant," he said.

Properly awakened, Cousins took charge. He scored seven of his 16 points in the final three minutes to help Kentucky outlast supposed pushover Georgia 76-68 in a Southeastern Conference opener Saturday.

At 16-0, UK established its best start to a season since Rupp's Runts opened with 23 straight victories in 1965-66.

"He was a beast," UK Coach John Calipari said of Cousins. "We were throwing it to him every single time. He's making free throws (five of six inside the final three minutes), which means we can do that. If you don't make free throws, we can't play through you because it's demoralizing to the team."

Georgia's resistance, which had UK clinging to a two-point lead with 1:05 to play, might have surprised.

The Cats putting their fate in Cousins' hands down the stretch continued to be a familiar strategy even though Calipari repeatedly suggested in the pre-season that Patterson, the team's pre-season All-American, would abandon the perimeter and return to the post down the stretch of a close game.

"Because he's getting it done," Calipari said of Cousins. Then the UK coach added, facetiously, "You won't believe this: I want to win. Nothing else matters to me.

"Patrick had a tough time with (Trey) Thompkins, to be honest with you. Thompkins didn't seem at all intimidated."

Thompkins, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Leslie led Georgia (8-6) with a game-high 20 points.

If not intimidated, Thompkins came away impressed with the Cousins-Patterson duo. Three Georgia big men fouled out trying to contain the UK tandem.

"They have the ability to make you foul them," Thompkins said. "It just worked to perfection for them. They're dynamic at the four and the five position. If one isn't there, then the other pops up on you.

"That two-headed monster is going to work well for them."

As Calipari suggested 24 hours earlier, a victory over Georgia did not come easy.

Kentucky had to overcome poor perimeter shooting (2-for-14 from three-point range) for a second straight game and the emotional come-down from last weekend's victory over Louisville.

Illness also played a role in what Eric Bledsoe called a "lackadaisical" first half.

"We're kind of starting to get sick," he said. "A stomach virus is going around."

For the first time in exactly a month (and for only the fourth time this season), Kentucky trailed at halftime.

UK's 0-for-8 three-point shooting helped Georgia take a 35-34 lead at the intermission.

Georgia's front line also played a key role in denying Kentucky its customary halftime lead. The Bulldogs outrebounded UK 22-17 in the first half and finished the game with a 36-33 advantage. The Cats came into the game leading the nation in rebounding margin (plus 11.5).

Kentucky zipped to a 21-10 lead. Cousins set that margin with a smooth turnaround baseline jumper as the shot clock hit zero.

Leslie kept Georgia afloat. He scored the Bulldogs' first 10 points, and 12 of the first 15.

Neither team led by more than six points in the second half until the end.

With 13:36 left in the game, Cousins had his headband knocked off as he began a drive.

When asked about Cousins throwing it to the bench, Bledsoe said, "That means to us, let's play. Let's get ready to ball."

With UK ahead 65-62, Cousins made five free throws to ease the tension.

"It's a great feeling," he said of being counted upon in the clutch. "My coach and my team believed in me that I'd bring them home. And that's what happened."

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