CRAWFORD | Without making a shot, Hawkins sets tone in Kentucky' - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Without making a shot, Hawkins sets tone in Kentucky's SEC win over Georgia

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) -- You’re probably going to be surprised that of all the players on the court during Kentucky’s 71-60 win over Georgia to open the Southeastern Conference Tournament, I’m leading off with a guy who didn’t make a shot.

In fact, he missed all seven of the shots he took, including one second-half dunk that would’ve brought down the house, and a transition layup which led to a follow-slam by Bam Adebayo that did bring down the house.

But I’m writing about Dominique Hawkins because he stuck to Georgia point guard J.J. Frazier like a nagging cold.

Georgia’s talented point guard had scored 36 last game against Kentucky, and 23 against the Wildcats in an overtime loss in Rupp Arena. He was, and this isn’t an exaggeration, the only guy who could beat them in Friday’s quarterfinal. Yante Maten, Georgia’s outstanding power forward, was playing his second game in two days after missing almost three weeks.

If Georgia was going to beat Kentucky, Frazier had to have a big day.

John Calipari had his players go after Frazier like rabid dogs. They didn’t just double-team the high ball screen, they tripled it.

“They loaded up on me,” Frazier said.

And Hawkins was a one-man load. You don’t have to score a point to have an impact on a basketball game. Kentucky freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox was excellent in his own right, on both ends. He was tough on Frazier defensively from the opening tip, and delivered 20 points. But his defensive effort also got him into foul trouble.

Hawkins’ effort allowed Fox to be Fox. And it allowed Kentucky to keep the pressure on Frazier, never allowing him that one open look to get himself going. Frazier finished with 15 points, but needed five points in the final two minutes to get to that total, and made just four of 17 shots.

“The way we played a couple of years ago, when we were 38-1, was you’d have the starters go out and a group come in and the other team would just say, great, now we have to deal with these guys,” senior Derek Willis said. “I think our guards are kind of like that. Dom comes in and just brings all this energy and pressure on the ball. He didn’t make a shot today, but he was great out there for us.”

The ball pressure Hawkins applied, and that Kentucky applied as a team, is something different from what it has shown for much of this season, and in fact better than most teams in the nation can muster. With the new offense-friendly rules, good ball pressure is something you see less in the college game. Kentucky managed it on Friday. Georgia couldn’t do anything it wanted to do. But Georgia is offensively challenged.

“We knew if we weren’t up on Frazier, pressuring him, he’d be able to see the basket, and if he can see it, he can make shots,” Hawkins said. “We either wanted him trapped, or one guy just going crazy all over the ball when he had it.”

Calipari stressed it. He also told his team he wanted it to play faster, which it managed to do at times. And he told his players, referring to the three straight double-digit deficits it has faced to open games at the end of the season, that it was their job to get themselves up, to be ready from the opening tip.

He even had his team press full-court early in the game, to underscore an aggressive approach, and to try to speed the game up.

All of those things worked. Willis said, “Sitting around the hotel for so long, we were anxious to get out there and get going. And we had a good start.”

“Major focus,” sophomore Isaiah Briscoe said. “We wanted to come out with a lot of energy and press early and get the game to speed up. That was the emphasis all week.”

The Wildcats led 14-5 after eight minutes. Foul trouble for Kentucky at the end of the half allowed Georgia to cut its deficit to five, but the Wildcats scored six straight to open the second half and push its lead to 17 in the first eight minutes.

“Postseason is about being able to make it hard for the other team,” Calipari said. “The second day in postseason is you’ve got to be able to score. If you think you can score 60 points in a postseason game and still win, you better hope that other team can’t make shots. But the problem is, if they’re in the (NCAA) Tournament, they probably can. . . .  At the end of the day, it’s how hard can we make it on the other team to score. We’re pretty locked in.”

Georgia had made it difficult for Kentucky to score in the paint in its previous meeting, but Calipari got his guards into the action, and Isaiah Briscoe finished with 20 points, as did Fox. Adebayo had 13 points and occupied so much of Georgia’s attention that the guards were able to get to the rim.

Briscoe also was big defensively for Kentucky.

“He can defend, rebound, create shots,” Calipari said. “He does a good job, and these guys know in the foxhole, dude is coming out fighting. He ain’t running.”

Like much of what Kentucky does this week, the win over a 14-loss Georgia team that hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent all season, in front of what amounts to a home crowd, is hard to gauge. But Georgia coach Mark Fox, who has faced the Wildcats three times this season, says they’re getting better.

“Because they have so many young players, their defense always gets better throughout the year,” Fox said. “I think that like any young player, our young players have gotten better all season. So have theirs. Their team defense today was very good. Obviously, you know, they made a point to slow down J.J. Frazier. We made a point to slow down Malik Monk. I thought both teams were effective in that.”

Monk’s lack of production is a concern. Kentucky won this game easily despite shooting just 38.3 percent from the field and getting only two points from Monk, who went 1-7 from the field and even missed two free throws.

“I was trying to get him to the foul line (late), and he did, and he missed those too,” Calipari said. “Then late you noticed we threw him the ball because I was trying to get him fouled again, because there’s only one person who can work through that -- him.”

So the Wildcats still have some things to work on. But they’ll have an SEC semifinal game Saturday to do just that.

“Our best basketball is still ahead of us,” Hawkins said.

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