John Clay

UK escapes SEC (eye) opener

Let's shelve the run-the-table in the SEC talk, shall we?

One game was enough to put the brakes on that nonsense.

As John Calipari says, come on, now. Tennessee may have just booted its best weapon, er, player off the team. Florida is no longer Florida. And it may be spring before the entire state of Alabama comes down from the natural high of its 13th national football championship long enough to remember the Crimson Tide does play basketball.

That's on paper. On the floor, it's still a conference, and in conference games every team knows every other team's personnel, its quirks, its plays, its strengths, its strategies, its motivation, its history.

Noted hoops-head Ashley Judd, in town for her first UK game this year, said afterward, "These other teams can really play. They can really play. ... They were snapping that ball around, and sometimes we looked like we were caught a little off-guard."

(Ms. Judd knows her hoops.)

And when you are Kentucky and you are unbeaten and you are ranked third in the nation and the Big Blue Nation is already talking about running the table, you're going to get everyone's Super Bowl.

(They could have asked Calipari's special guest, Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, about that.)

"We know that," said DeMarcus Cousins.

They sure know that now.

Georgia was the pre-season pick to finish last in the SEC East. Georgia lost by 16 to UAB, by 28 to Pepperdine. The Bulldogs were an 18½ -point underdog to the mighty Cats for a Saturday afternoon game in Rupp Arena. And with 1:05 to play, Georgia trailed 70-68.

Kentucky scored the next six points to win 76-68, to run its record to 16-0, to keep that, as Judd called it, "super-geeked-out" feeling.

"I've been sick all winter, and they have kept me cheerful, in spite of being flat on my back with H1N1 and a bunch of other goofy stuff like that," said Judd. "I think it's a fun team, and the spirit around here is just tremendous."

But it needs to go up a notch. SEC walkovers? Get out of here. There is no such thing.

"Welcome to the SEC," was the way Calipari opened his news conference.

The Cats claimed a lack of respect wasn't their problem, or why they trailed 35-34 at the half, or why the visiting Bulldogs had a 59-57 lead with 8:03 to play.

"They just beat Georgia Tech," said Cousins. "We knew they were good."

"Coach Cal had been talking about that all week," said Patrick Patterson.

Talking is one thing. Playing is another. Kentucky started slow. For the second straight game, it made just two of 14 three-pointers. It was outrebounded 36-33. It was nip-and-tuck all game until Cousins scored seven of his team's last 11 points as the hosts finally put a gritty Georgia away.

"And that's at home," said Calipari. "I can't even imagine what's going to happen on the road, when we go on the road."

He finds out Tuesday. UK visits Gainesville, Fla. Think the Rowdy Reptiles might have a thing or two to chant at Big Cuz?

So, yes, from a pure hoops standpoint, the league might be a bit down right now, or unlucky (see Tennessee) right now, but that isn't going to last for long.

With Mark Fox in his first year at Georgia, Anthony Grant in his first year at Alabama, Trent Johnson in his second year at LSU, and Bruce Pearl, Kevin Stallings, Andy Kennedy, Rick Stansbury, and yes, Calipari, this league is going to get better.

Kentucky better get better, too.

"Everybody's strong, just as strong as you are," Cousins said. "You've got to come out and play every night."

That table has 15 more tough ones to go.

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