BOZICH | Harrison (Andrew, this time) to the rescue for Kentucky against Georgia
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It was supposed to be a walkover, Kentucky walloping Georgia, the way the Wildcats have walloped so many teams this season.
The Bulldogs were without Marcus Thornton, their best scorer, rebounder and player. Georgia lost by 17 at lowly South Carolina three days ago. Kentucky was favored by 18.
The Wildcats sprinted to an 11-1 lead. Georgia did not make a field goal for the first four-plus minutes. Kentucky led by 17 points with less than two minutes left in the first half. The Wildcats were actually up 18 early in the second half.
The rout was on. And then it was off. Georgia cut the lead until 10 less than six minutes into the second half – and then the Bulldogs actually closed within five (63-58) with 2:06 to go.
That was the end of the drama. Kentucky scored the game's final six points and won, 69-58.
Kentucky led for all but 20 seconds, even though it didn't always seem like it.
The Wildcats have reached the mid-point of their Southeastern Conference schedule without a stumble. They're 9-0 in the league, 22-0 overall – and play five of their final nine regular-season games on the road, starting with a Saturday night trip to Florida.
They're two games ahead of Texas A&M, their closest challenger, in the loss column in the SEC standings.
“When Kentucky gets ahead by 12 or 14 points early, you're not going to come back and beat them because they're so good defensively,” said Darrin Horn, analyst for the SEC Network.
“It's so hard to score against them on back-to-back possessions that you're not going to put together any kind of run against them. They're so good on defense that they're still going to win when they don't play great offense.”
Kentucky was not great on offense, shooting only 45 percent and missing 15 of 22 three-point shots. John Calipari's team was solid with the basketball. They turned it over only seven times and had assists on 16 of their 25 field goals.
The star of the game?
John Calipari has worked relentlessly to maintain Harrison's confidence, especially with freshman point guard Tyler Ulis pushing for playing time. Harrison rewarded Calipari for his faithfulness against the Bulldogs. He was tenacious, he was determined and he was relentless.
Harrison made half of his 16 shots – and half of his three shots from distance – to lead the Wildcats with 23 points. It was Harrison's first 20-point game this season. He made all four of his free throws and only threw the ball away one time.
“He looks like he's back in sync,” said Horn, the former coach at South Carolina and Western Kentucky. “He's letting the game come to him.
“There was a stretch earlier in the season when he looked like he wasn't sure if he should drive, pass or shoot. He's doing a much better of playing in an assertive mode instead of a reactive mode.”
Only one other UK player scored double figures – freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. If you're a fan of plus/minus statistics, Kentucky was plus-22 when Towns was on the court.
“He gets better every time he goes out there,” Horn said. “He's like a young colt who looks stronger every time he goes to the track. He's slowed down a little bit.
“He's not only doing a better job of playing through contact, he's initiating the contact sometimes. It doesn't bother him. He's developed a go-to move, that jump hook and he's going to keep taking it and making it until you find a way to stop him.”
Was a game like this, close in the final minutes, good for Kentucky?
“Sure,” Horn said. “It can be.
“Let's be honest: This thing is all about winning six games in March so any time you can put your team through a situation similar to something you might encounter in March, it a good thing.”
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