BOZICH | Kentucky averts court storm by storming back to beat Ge - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Kentucky averts court storm by storming back to beat Georgia, 72-64

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Andrew Harrison had a dozen points in UK's win at Georgia Tuesday. Andrew Harrison had a dozen points in UK's win at Georgia Tuesday.
ATHENS, Ga. (WDRB) – With less than four minutes to play in the Kentucky-Georgia basketball game Tuesday night, dozens of security people moved into position at Stegeman Coliseum.

They didn't line up to snap pictures of Charles Barkley, Bill Belichick, Ashley Judd or other celebrity fans who had uncovered a ticket for this sold-out game. They lined up to protect the players in case several thousand Georgia students stormed the court. 

Believe me, the students were ready. The home team led by a half-dozen points with less than five minutes to play.

Never happened.

The Wildcats walked off the court with quiet confidence after delivering their most unflappable finishing kick of the season. They wiped away a six-point Georgia lead in the final 5 ½ minutes, twisting a 62-56 hole into a 72-64 victory. Make John Calipari's team 30-0, one game from perfection in the regular season, 10 from perfection and a national championship.

"Everybody made a big play down the stretch," Aaron Harrison said. 

Karl-Anthony Towns played like the guy that several NBA scouts have told me he is – the possible first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Every time Kentucky gave him the ball in the second half good things happened. Towns led Kentucky with 19 critical points.

"I knew the moves I wanted to go to in that key part of the game," Towns said. "I just had to make sure I make them. I'm just happy I made them. You can't thank God any more than that."

Towns scored his final seven points while playing with four  fouls. Not that he was concerned about fouling out. Towns was concerned with winning.

"I just went to the bench and I just thought that if my number is called, I've got to be ready," Towns said. "Ready to either block shots, rebound, score, whatever it is that they need me to do, I need to be able to do. I went in there real focused. I just wanted to win the game for my brothers."

The Harrison Twins played like seniors, not sophomores, protecting the basketball on a night when Kentucky survived because the Wildcats only turned the ball over four times. Aaron Harrison had 16 points, Andrew a dozen.

Willie Cauley-Stein looked lost on offense – until he found himself in the middle of Kentucky's most essential offensive possession. Aaron Harrison scored on a drive with 4:48 to play to cut Georgia's lead to 62-58.

He missed the free throw. Didn't matter. Cauley-Stein turned the rebound into another basket, a dunk – and the Wildcats were rolling. Kentucky scored the game's next 14 points. The Bulldogs went five minutes and seven seconds without a point.

Before that stretch, somebody in the UK huddle said the Wildcats needed to string together three straight defensive stops. Andrew Harrison wanted more. He upgraded that number to five in a row.

Instead, the Wildcats pitched a shutout for five minutes and seven seconds.

Why five straight stops?

"I was looking at my jersey number," Andrew Harrison said, before laughing. "No, we wanted to put together stops as long as we could -- and that's what we did."

Turnovers. Missed free throws. Missed shots. Dumb fouls. Forced shots. The works, most of it created by Kentucky's unrelenting defense.

"I'm not sure if it was in doubt, but it was a tough game," Andrew Harrison said. "Me, Aaron and a lot of the vets, we've been in a lot of tough games so we didn't really worry about winning and losing."

Know this: Georgia had more issues dealing with the idea of upsetting the top-ranked team in America than Kentucky had dealing with the idea of continuing its unbeaten season. Kentucky can file this victory as muscle memory to carry the Wildcats through the rest of this season.

Both teams struggled to make shots early – Kentucky missing six of its first 10 and Georgia five of its first seven, including four from the three-point line.

When Georgia went ahead 3-2 early in the first half, Southeastern Conference officials should have stopped the game and awarded the Bulldogs the game ball. It was the first time Kentucky trailed in the Wildcats' last 145 minutes of basketball.

That's a lot of games.

Later in the half the Wildcats actually trailed by three. Not a misprint. Kentucky trailed by three.

That didn't last. Andrew Harrison made certain of that. He scored seven points in 26 seconds late in the first half to push the Wildcats ahead, 32-27.

But just when it appeared that Kentucky was going to push Georgia fans directly into spring practice, the Wildcats lost their focus again. The Bulldogs scored the final five points of the half.

Two numbers to remember from the first half: 1.) Kentucky made only 33.3 percent of its field-goal attempts, the Wildcats worst shooting performance in a half since the second half of their Jan. 10 trip to Texas A&M; 2.) The Wildcats did not lead at halftime for only the seventh time this season.


"For us we were never thinking about that," Towns said. "We were just thinking about what we've got to do at any given point to win the game." 

The second half was different. It has been every time the Wildcats have suffered an uneven first half this season. What was impressive about this victory is the Wildcats won even though they shot less than 40 percent and made only four three-pointers. Trey Lyles scored two points. Tyler Ulis did not score any. The Wildcats were beaten on the glass. Kentucky had the goods to overcome that.

For Kentucky, one regular season game remains. Florida visits Rupp Arena Saturday. A year ago the Gators won every SEC game and landed at the Final Four. This season Florida will drag a losing record in conference play to town.

You know what means -- Kentucky favored by 15 by one computer projection.

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