Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball’s win over Georgia and more Big Blue Links

Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) tries to split Georgia forwards Mike Edwards (32) left and E’Torrion Wilridge (13) in the second half of UK’s 82-77 win at Stegemen Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 18, 2017.
Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) tries to split Georgia forwards Mike Edwards (32) left and E’Torrion Wilridge (13) in the second half of UK’s 82-77 win at Stegemen Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 18, 2017. Lexington Herald-Leader

Big Blue Links for Sunday:

Lucky Kentucky survives 82-77 win over Georgia. Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader reports, “Kentucky’s game at Georgia Saturday night showed why Coach John Calipari said a week ago that he’d take the preliminary three-seed for the NCAA Tournament announced that day and be thankful. Kentucky senior Derek Willis talks about the team's 82-77 win. It also showed the wisdom in what ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said a month earlier that Kentucky was merely ‘regular-good.’ Regular was good enough, barely, as Kentucky beat Georgia 82-77.”

Struggling with a depleted Georgia is not a good sign. My column says, “Remember when the SEC was going to be a cakewalk for Kentucky? Remember when the popular narrative placed UK as being so good and the rest of the conference so bad that surely all the Cats would have to do was show up to win all the hardware? It hasn’t really worked out that way.”

A great effort by Georgia goes for naught. Mark Bradley of the AJC writes, “In a game Georgia absolutely had to win, its best player was lost to a knee injury after 95 seconds. Oh, and Georgia was facing Kentucky. This would seem to meet every definition of ‘worst-case scenario.’ But the Bulldogs nearly won the thing, and no, this isn’t the equivalent of saying the Falcons nearly won the Super Bowl. Georgia fought a superior team to a standstill without Yante Maten, and the Wildcats, with their usual cavalcade of McDonald’s All-Americans, proved utterly unable to guard the 5-foot-10 J.J. Frazier.”

Calipari is both ecstatic and concerned. Rick Bozich of WDRB writes, “Give John Calipari the opportunity to subtract one player from the Georgia basketball lineup, and he wouldn’t have to consult DeMarcus Cousins to make the call. Scratch Yante Maten, and Kentucky beats Georgia by 15. Or 20. More? Actually make it less.”

J.J. Frazier’s 36 points not enough for Georgia. Jason Butt of the Macon Telegrah writes, “Once again, Georgia came incredibly close to beating Kentucky. The Bulldogs lost yet another heartbreaker to the Wildcats, this time a 82-77 on Saturday thriller that went back and forth through the full 40 minutes. Georgia guard J.J. Frazier played a magnificent game, dropping 36 points and doing almost everything possible to give his team a win. But in the end, it wouldn’t be enough.”

De’Aaron Fox proves capable in the clutch. Kyle Tucker of SEC Country writes, “With five minutes to go in Saturday night’s game at Georgia, De’Aaron Fox had two points and Kentucky trailed by three. Stegeman Coliseum was buzzing like a bee hive and the Wildcats looked ready to be stung. The freshman point guard had made just 1 of 9 shots from the field and neither of his free-throw attempts. He was an unlikely hero, not that there were any likely heroes on a night Kentucky’s starting backcourt shot 29.7 percent.”

Kentucky holds off Georgia again. Fletcher Page of the Courier-Journal reports, “De'Aaron Fox had 10 points in the final 2:07 and Kentucky rallied from a second-half deficit to beat Georgia for a fourth consecutive time Saturday. Fox finished with 16 points, Malik Monk added 16 and Bam Adebayo had 13 to push the No. 11 Wildcats to an 82-77 victory in front of a 10,523 sell-out crowd at Stegeman Coliseum.”

Unsung seniors help UK beat Georgia. Alex Forkner of the Cats Pause reports, “Freshmen usually rule the day for Kentucky basketball, at least since John Calipari has been in the coach's chair. And while De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk ended up leading the Cats with 16 points apiece in UK's 82-77 win over Georgia, it was UK's trio of seniors – Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder – that made so many crucial plays to keep Kentucky's hopes alive. Willis tied a career-high with 12 rebounds, nine of which came in the second half and five in the last seven minutes.”

Kentucky gets tough down the stretch to beat Georgia. Keith Taylor of KyForward writes, “The finish by Fox overshadowed Frazier’s 36-point effort that came to a complete halt down the stretch. Out of options on defense, Calipari decided to double-team Frazier in the final two minutes to cool off the hot-shooting guard. The scheme worked to perfection as the Bulldogs scored just two points in the final 44 seconds.”

How will UK football’s offense look in year two? Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader reports, “When Kentucky’s offensive coordinators had the same roles at Cincinnati, many of their statistics from year one to year two were similar. But the Bearcats’ offense under Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw took a big step forward in red-zone conversions in the second season, going from No. 113 in the country to No. 16. It went from connecting on 73.7 percent of its attempts within striking distance of the goal to 90.2 percent. There’s a reason for that.”

South Carolina continues slide with loss at Vanderbilt. The State reports, “South Carolina coach Frank Martin said his team had to find its spirit after a loss to Arkansas on Wednesday. The No. 21 Gamecocks, who are sure to fall out of the Top 25 on Monday, are still looking for it. USC dropped its third of four games at Vanderbilt on Saturday, 71-62. It was a refrain of the others, and of recent games USC managed to win – the Gamecocks’ once-fearsome defense has become exposed, and USC couldn’t supply near-enough offense to help SEC Player of the Year candidate Sindarius Thornwell.”

Florida outlasts Mississippi State for eighth straight win. Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun reports, “With starting center John Egbunu out for the season with a torn ACL, the eyes of Gator Nation turned to his replacement when No. 15 Florida faced Mississippi State. Florida sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes delivered in a big way down the stretch Saturday, lifting the Gators to a 57-52 win over the Bulldogs before 7,980 at Humphrey Coliseum.”

Tennessee matches last year’s win total. Mike Strange of the Knoxville News-Sentinel writes, “The first talking point in Rick Barnes' post-game media session was Robert Hubbs III's new cornrows hairstyle. That alone tells you Saturday went well for Tennessee basketball. It sure went better than Tuesday night, a lot better. The Vols bounced back from a 25-point spanking at Kentucky on Tuesday with a 90-70 romp past Missouri at Thompson-Boling Arena.”

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

SEC

Overall

Florida

12-2

22-5

Kentucky

12-2

22-5

South Carolina

10-4

20-7

Arkansas

9-5

20-7

Alabama

9-5

16-10

Ole Miss

7-7

16-11

Tennessee

7-7

15-12

Vanderbilt

7-7

14-13

Georgia

6-8

15-12

Texas A&M

6-8

14-12

Auburn

5-9

16-11

Miss State

5-9

14-12

Missouri

2-12

7-19

LSU

1-13

9-17

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