GAME NOTES: The Georgia Bulldogs will close out their home slate for the 2012-13 season on Thursday night, as they welcome the Kentucky Wildcats to Stegeman Coliseum for an SEC clash.
Kentucky has had its share of ups and downs on its way to a 20-9 record this season, although it has not fared very well on the road in recent weeks with three straight losses away from Lexington. The Wildcats most recently dropped a 73-60 decision at Arkansas last Saturday, but at 11-5 in conferenence, they are still a half game up on Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama for second place, and in line to secure a first-round bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
After suffering three straight losses in mid-February, Georgia has rebounded with wins in two of its last three games, including a 78-68 triumph over the surging Tennessee Volunteers last Saturday. The Bulldogs are 14-15 overall and 8-8 in league play, and they are trying to secure just their third .500 season in the SEC in the last 10 years.
Kentucky has won three straight games versus Georgia to bring its advantage in the all-time series to a commanding 115-25 margin.
The Wildcats could not overcome Arkansas' incredible home court advantage last weekend, and even though they outshot the Razorbacks from the field, .465 to .348, they still fell by 13 points thanks to 19 turnovers and a 20-7 deficit on the offensive glass. Willie-Cauley Stein logged a double-double in the setback with 13 points and 10 rebounds, adding four blocks as well, Archie Goodwin tallied 14 points, and Ryan Harrow finished with 10.
Even though Kentucky hasn't lived up to its lofty expectations, it is still one of the more well-rounded squads in the SEC, boasting stellar efforts at both the offensive (.485 FG percentage, 74.8 ppg) and defensive (.389, 64.7) ends of the court. Goodwin (13.8 ppg) and Alex Poythress (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) are both in the midst of strong freshman campaigns, while upperclassmen Kyle Wiltjer (10.8 ppg), Harrow (10.5 ppg) and Julius Mays (9.7 ppg) have been assets in the backcourt. First-year sensation Nerlens Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.4 bpg) has been lost for the season with a torn ACL, but Cauley-Stein (8.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg) has done an admirable job filling his shoes in the starting lineup.
After a hotly-contested first half, Georgia was able to pull away from Tennessee after intermission thanks in large part to an outstanding 22-of-26 showing from the foul line. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the catalyst for the Bulldogs in the victory, tallying 25 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Charles Mann poured in 18 points (on 12-of-14 foul shooting) while dishing out eight assists.
The Bulldogs can't usually count on such strong offensive performances, as they rank near the bottom of the league in scoring at 60.4 ppg, but they have become a tough draw in the SEC because of their outstanding defense, which yields just 61.4 ppg on less than 39 percent field goal shooting. Caldwell- Pope is well on his way to an All-SEC selection, as he logs 18.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg and more than two steals per contest. Unfortunately for UGA however, it doesn't give Caldwell-Pope much support, as Nemanja Djurisic is the next-best scorer with only 7.7 ppg.
Kentucky's road woes have prevented it from becoming the SEC power it is used to being this season, and it has another difficult matchup on tap against a gritty Georgia squad, but every win counts with the Wildcats squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
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