CRAWFORD | With clock striking February, Kentucky takes a step t - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | With clock striking February, Kentucky takes a step toward toughness in 90-81 OT win over Georgia

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Kentucky coach John Calipari checks his watch after Tuesday night's win over Georgia (WDRB photo by Katie George) Kentucky coach John Calipari checks his watch after Tuesday night's win over Georgia (WDRB photo by Katie George)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The clock struck February shortly after the University of Kentucky basketball team escaped from its matchup against visiting Georgia with a 90-81 win over visiting Georgia, and there were several ways to look at it -- all of them accurate, in their own way.

It was a gritty effort, without starting point guard De'Aaron Fox, who missed the game with the flu, and reserve guard Michael Mulder. Forward Sacha Killeya-Jones also missed the game with the flu. The Wildcats trailed by 14 early, dug in on defense and had pulled even by halftime, despite getting only five minutes from starting center Bam Adebayo.

Then again, it took everything the Wildcats had, including a magnificent second-half shooting exhibition from freshman Malik Monk, who went 5-7 from three and had 23 points after intermission to finish with 37.

And it shouldn't take everything the Wildcats have -- even without Fox -- to win at Rupp Arena against Georgia, the RPI equivalent, basically, of Pittsburgh. (Georgia is No. 52, Pittsburgh No. 56.)

The Wildcats gave up straight-line drives to the basket and struggled to contain Georgia's big men, particularly Yante Maten (22 points on 8-15 shooting) and Derek Ogbeide (18 points and 13 rebounds). These are all things to file away, to remember later when the competition heats up.

But on Feb. 1, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he prefers to remain positive. Now, it isn't easy. But that's what he wants to do. In that spirit, Monk is unreal when he gets it going. He didn't exactly have a man in his face on most of his second-half threes, but there was a defender in the vicinity. Didn't matter. He rose up late in the game and, with a foot just inside the three-point line, buried the two-pointer under defensive pressure to tie the game with eight seconds left in regulation.

And if Isaiah Briscoe wasn't always great, he was always trying. He finished with 23 points and fought for 11 rebounds, four offensive.

The two guards combined to shoot 21 of 27 from the free-throw line. The Wildcats outscored Georgia 24-3 on second-chance points and outrebounded the Bulldogs 45-32. Those last two are toughness stats, and that's exactly what Calipari wants from his team.

"Toughness isn't just pushing people," Calipari said. "It's making tough plays, four minutes to go, three minutes to go. . . . I'm trying to tell them, each game, it's got to be more about them and less about me. And I've got to try to be as positive as I can, but sometimes you just can't, I don't care what you say. But I'm trying. It's now February (looking at watch), I've got to be more positive."

It helps on a night like Tuesday when you have Monk, the best player on the court. And also the second-best (Bam Adebayo) and the third-best (Briscoe).

When you have that, you're supposed to win. In a game that doubled as the final career broadcast of ESPN's Brent Musburger, you were looking live at a mini-catastrophe until Monk's late heroics.

"He just got rolling," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "So we tried some different things. You have to give a great player credit. I’m not faulting our team. Our team competed hard. Their kids made more plays tonight then we did and they made enough to win.”

The test gets even harder at Florida on Saturday. The Gators are ranked No. 8, right behind Kentucky at No. 7, in the latest RPI. And that test, too, will be good for the Wildcats, provided they get Fox back.

Talent has a way of rising to the top in the NCAA Tournament, and Calipari still has many buttons he can push with this team. 

Without a bona fide rim protector, this team still needs to toughen up defensively. It needs to put things together against good opponents in tough games.

And chances are, with the talent Calipari has, it will. Now that the clock has struck February, it's time to begin, and the way the Wildcats ended Tuesday night's game was a good start.

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