UK Men's Basketball

Calipari says Cats must get physical with Georgia

Kentucky Wildcats forward Josh Harrellson (55) had his shot blocked by Georgia Bulldogs forward Trey Thompkins (33) as Kentucky played Georgia  on Saturday January  8, 2011 in Athens, GA. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats forward Josh Harrellson (55) had his shot blocked by Georgia Bulldogs forward Trey Thompkins (33) as Kentucky played Georgia on Saturday January 8, 2011 in Athens, GA. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Three weeks ago, Georgia manhandled Kentucky. Wanted it more, as the sporting parlance goes. If not turn tail and run, UK put a priority on avoiding contact, even if it meant fadeaways, no-chance flip shots and assorted frill-seeking plays that drove Coach John Calipari to distraction.

As the teams play again Saturday in Rupp Arena, Calipari expects the same Georgia team.

"They're going to be physical," he said on Friday. "That's how they play."

The question hovering over the rematch is this: Has Kentucky changed?

"We'll either after the game say we got better or we're the same guys," Calipari said. "It'll be one of the two."

To make sure it's not the latter, Kentucky has been staging tougher practices and changed its weight-lifting routine, center Josh Harrellson said.

"Lifting heavy again instead of light weights to stay in shape," he said. "Heavy again to get stronger."

In preparation for Georgia, Kentucky players apparently have been muscling one another in practice. Harrellson described no-holds-barred drills and scrimmages this week.

"He doesn't really care how you get the ball," Harrellson said of rebound drills. "You can run people over. It's definitely getting us in the right mindset to play."

Georgia Coach Mark Fox said he saw an improved Kentucky team since that Jan. 8 game in Athens.

"I think Kentucky's matured a great deal in the last couple weeks," he said of the Kiddie Cats. "We played very well that day in a lot of phases of the game. We'll have to play better than that to win in Rupp Arena."

Darius Miller echoed the sentiment.

"Yeah, I think we're playing better than we were then," he said. "In my opinion, we've gotten better throughout the whole year."

Playing better than at Georgia isn't saying much. Kentucky shot 38 percent, its third-worst accuracy of the season. The Cats also got outrebounded 41-37, one of only six times this season the opponent has won the battle of the boards.

Maybe most stunning, Georgia shot 34 free throws to Kentucky's 16. The only other time this season the opponent shot more free throws than UK came at North Carolina (21-37).

Reflecting on the first meeting, Calipari spoke of how the Bulldogs play physically, especially on drives toward the basket, the heart of the Dribble-Drive.

"When you drive, they meet the drives," he said. "They don't give ground. They meet you. Well, when they meet you, you can either play through the bumps or throw fadeaways."

Although Calipari downplayed revenge as a motivation, Miller and especially Harrellson embraced the notion.

"Oh, definitely," Harrellson said. "We definitely have a lot of hard feelings toward them."

Georgia brings its own toughness issues into the game. The Bulldogs will need to show their mental toughness after an emotionally draining two-overtime home loss to Florida on Tuesday. Fox acknowledged that the game, which saw both teams experience the thrill of apparent victory and the depression of it snatched away, heightened concerns of a bruised Georgia psyche.

"Oh sure," he said. "Any time you have a tough loss like that, you have some concern."

Georgia seemingly showed its mental toughness a week earlier. The Dawgs lost on a buzzer-beater to Tennessee 59-57 when the referees failed to call an over-the-back foul, allowing the Vols to score the winning put-back. Four days later, Georgia crushed Mississippi State 86-64 in a game that saw State Coach Rick Stansbury question his team's competitive spirit.

"There's a little bit of difference," Fox said before adding a moment later, "Different finishes."

That seemed to be a reference to feeling robbed against Tennessee and taking out the anger against Mississippi State.

The loss to Florida carried more of a spirit-crushing quality.

Calipari was not buying the notion of a vulnerable Georgia.

"They're a top 20-25 team," he said. "That's what they are."

Fox acknowledged that star forward Trey Thompkins, a pre-season pick for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, can lead the way out of Georgia's valley of despair. But his teammates must help lift a team that finds itself in last place in the hotly competitive SEC Eastern Division three weeks after beating Kentucky to validate itself a contender.

"The whole group has to pick themselves off the mat," the Georgia coach said.

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