BOZICH | Calipari conflicted after Kentucky overcomes wounded Ge - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Calipari conflicted after Kentucky overcomes wounded Georgia

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John Calipari was happy -- and concerned -- after Kentucky outlasted Georgia Saturday. John Calipari was happy -- and concerned -- after Kentucky outlasted Georgia Saturday.

ATHENS, Ga. (WDRB) – 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.

Make it by one, two, three, four, five precarious points, most of them delivered by De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky’s freshman point guard. Fox scored half of his 16 points in the final 72 seconds as the Wildcats outlasted Georgia, 82-77, Saturday evening at Stegeman Coliseum.

After the game, Calipari sounded pleased, displeased, excited, concerned and conflicted. (On Sunday, the Wildcats did not appear to take a hit in the computer rankings. They were third in Jeff Sagarin Predictor, seventh in Ken Pomeroy's formula and eighth in the RPI.)

The coach said this: “I loved it. We made free throws. We attacked. I liked the fact that De’Aaron missed two free throws and then made eight in a row.”

But he also said this: “We were lucky to get out alive. Let’s be real. Maten was out. We were lucky to win.”

Happy Cal returned: “We go on the road and win a game in our league? I’m ecstatic. I’d rather learn from close wins than close losses.”

The happiness came with an expiration date. Calipari expressed concern that with four regular season games remaining, several (unnamed) players didn’t bring the energy and enthusiasm the coach expects.

“If a guy is not playing with energy, you ought to ask them,” Calipari said.

As Calipari said, let’s be real: Maten is not only Georgia’s best big man, he’s in every serious discussion for most powerful big man in the Southeastern Conference, top 10 in the league in scoring and rebounding.

Maten did not contribute a point, rebound or even a turnover for Georgia. He exited with an injury to his right knee about 96 seconds into the game, leaving a 19-point, 7-rebound hole in the Bulldogs’ lineup.

No Maten, no chance for a Georgia upset, right?

Wrong.

On a night when Ken Pomeroy’s formula projected the Wildcats to win by six with Maten, the Wildcats needed every clutch basket, free throw and rebound to exit with their 22nd win in 27 games.

The Wildcats huffed and puffed in a frenzied 40 minutes that featured a double-technical foul and another heated rebounding collision that ended with UK’s Isaiah Briscoe and Georgia’s Pape Diatta tumbling to the floor.

Enter De’Aaron Fox. He closed the game like a champion. Fox missed two free throws with 7:15 to play. He looked like the perfect candidate for Georgia to send to the line at winning time. He was not. Those were the last two free throws Fox misfired.

He made a basket and six free throws in the final 1:12 to bump the Wildcats from a 73-71 hole to a 79-75 lead. Two final free throws by Malik Monk confirmed the Wildcats would return to a first-place tie with Florida in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators and Wildcats are both 12-2.

Somebody asked if missing those two free throws shook Fox’s confidence?

“It’ll take a lot more than that to break my confidence,” Fox said. “I wanted to get fouled. I wanted to make big shots.”

It was fitting that Monk and Fox both finished with 16 points. Bam Adebayo contributed 13 points, but Derek Willis earned praise from Calipari for grabbing a dozen rebounds and scoring seven points. 

Without Maten, the Bulldogs were left with one guy who has averaged double figures this season – guard J. J. Frazier. On a night when Georgia needed Frazier to be terrific, he was better than that, scoring 36 points, making half of his 22 field goal attempts.

“J.J. was ridiculous,” Calipari said. “He controlled the whole game.”

Adebayo struggled with Maten’s replacement, Mike Edwards, a sophomore who has started one game this season and two in his career. Edwards had not scored double figures in an SEC game this season – until Saturday when he scored 10 points.

In fact, Edwards slipped behind Adebayo on a pick-and-roll five minutes into the second half for a dunk that put Georgia ahead, 38-37.

The lead only lasted 15 seconds. Isaiah Briscoe converted a three-point play to bump the Wildcats back ahead, 40-38.

The teams continued to exchange body blows. Georgia tied the game four times in the next five minutes. Kentucky responded with a basket on its next possession after Georgia forced all four ties – first on a three-pointer by Dominique Hawkins, then on a Hawkins’ drive, then on a layup by Adebayo and finally on a shot from distance by Wenyen Gabriel.

Gabriel’s three-pointer pushed UK ahead 50-47 but Georgia missed the memo that the Bulldogs were a 15-11 team. They grabbed the lead eight more times. They held it until Fox took it from them, tying the game with two free throws at 44.4 seconds and then bumping Kentucky ahead with two more 17 seconds later.

“De’Aaron was clutch,” said UK forward Derek Willis.

Kentucky started the game a half-game behind Florida in the SEC race because the Gators moved to 12-2 by winning at Mississippi State Saturday afternoon.

Georgia came to this game tied with Tennessee and Vanderbilt for seventh place in the SEC. Don’t look for the Bulldogs anywhere on Joe Lunardi’s projected NCAA Tournament at ESPN.com, not even among the eight teams Lunardi considers right outside the 68-team tournament field.

After the game, Calipari made his pitch for Georgia coach Mark Fox to return for his ninth season. He also criticized North Carolina State for firing Mark Gottfried earlier this week.

Four SEC regular-season games remain for Kentucky, which visits Missouri Tuesday before returning home for the rematch with Florida Saturday.

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