UK Men's Basketball

Aggressive Cats pull away from Georgia in second half

ATHENS, Ga. — On Tuesday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said he wanted his team to be the attacker, not the team being attacked.

On Wednesday, Kentucky eventually granted that request. The Cats attacked Georgia to begin the second half and coasted to an 80-68 victory.

The Cats caused six turnovers and blocked two shots in the first three minutes of the second half to separate themselves from Georgia and clinch at least a share of the program's 44th Southeastern Conference regular-season championship. UK can claim the title outright if Vanderbilt loses to South Carolina on Saturday or with a Sunday victory over Florida on Senior Day.

UK (28-2, 13-2 in the SEC) flexed offensive and defensive muscle.

The Cats snapped out of their three-point shooting "spell," the term Calipari preferred to use to describe 12-for-73 shooting from beyond the arc in the last four games. UK made eight threes against Georgia, more than the Cats had in all but eight previous games this season. That foiled the Bulldogs' strategy of following conventional wisdom by playing a zone defense.

John Wall and Darnell Dodson, who had combined to make one of 24 three-point attempts in the four-game "spell," each made three shots from beyond the arc. For Wall, who had made one of 14 in the previous four games, the three threes equalled a career high.

When asked his reaction to critics of his shooting, Wall said, "I laugh. That's what I've been hearing since high school. I can make shots when it's time to make shots."

Calipari again scoffed at the attention paid to Kentucky's perimeter shooting.

"Three-pointers will not be our demise," he said. "That's not what it's going to be. We can all write about that and say that. That's a falsehood."

Defensively, where Calipari said UK must excel, the Cats blocked a season-high 14 shots. That tied Mississippi State for the most by an SEC team this season. State blocked 14 shots by Texas-Pan American on Nov. 24.

DeMarcus Cousins led the way with a career-high six blocks.

Daniel Orton got the 13th, and it came at a good time. He blocked Trey Thompkins' layup after Georgia had narrowed a 19-point UK lead to 72-63.

"People try to say we can't shoot the three," Patterson said. "We know we're not a three-point shooting team. We're a defensive team."

Wall led UK with 24 points. Patrick Patterson added 17 and Dodson had 11.

Georgia fell to 13-15 overall and 5-10 in the SEC.

Jeremy Price led Georgia with 19 points. UK held Thompkins to 12 and Travis Leslie to eight. The two came into the game averaging 35.2 points in SEC play and shot a combined 8-for-24.

Kentucky made six three-pointers in the first half. The Cats hadn't made that many shots from beyond the arc in six of the previous seven games.

The sharpshooting came in handy since Cousins, the low-post anchor, picked up two fouls and went to the bench with 11:41 left in the half. UK's leading scorer in league play (17.1 points a game), he did not score in the opening half.

Nursing a 40-36 halftime lead, Kentucky started the second half fast enough to prompt Georgia to call two timeouts inside the first 3:01.

After Darius Miller blocked Leslie's pull-up jumper that was forced by a dwindling shot clock, Wall hit his third three-pointer.

Then after a Georgia turnover, Cousins made his first basket a stylish one: He dribbled the length of the court, shifted the ball from his right to left hand and made a fast-break layup.

Georgia called time with 18:36 left. It didn't help. Yet another turnover led to Cousins playing point guard, feeding Patrick Patterson on a fast break.

The pattern continued. Georgia turned it over. Wall sped to a fast-break layup while being fouled. The three-point play put Kentucky ahead 50-36 as Georgia called time with 16:59 left.

Things got so bad for Georgia that Leslie had to be helped off the court with 16:02 left. Georgia Coach Mark Fox got so upset, presumably because play was not stopped while Leslie writhed on the floor, that he ripped off his jacket, sending his tie askew.

Kentucky had Georgia in a good place. The Bulldogs could continue to milk the clock and slow the pace, but that was not likely to be the formula for a comeback.

Or Georgia could play faster. That is to say play into Kentucky's hands.

When the pace quickened, UK's lead grew.

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