Kentucky tourney hopes take another blow
by Kyle Tucker, USA TODAY Sports
ATHENS, Ga. — Earlier this season, John Calipari started strapping heart monitors on his Kentucky basketball players during games and practices to measure their effort. If there was such a device to detect a team’s NCAA tournament heartbeat, it would barely have registered a pulse Thursday night.
The Wildcats, already on the bubble, suffered their worst loss — at least according to the Ratings Percentage Index — of this unsteady season at Georgia. Kentucky was outhustled, outplayed and, most importantly, outscored 72-62 at Stegeman Coliseum.
For all their flaws and foibles, the Wildcats (20-10, 11-6 SEC) had not lost to a team outside the RPI top 100. The Bulldogs (15-15, 9-8) entered the evening ranked 129th. That means Kentucky likely must beat ninth-ranked Florida at home in Saturday’s regular-season finale or make a deep run in the SEC tournament. Short of winning it, though, there are no guarantees.
These Wildcats hardly looked the part of an NCAA tournament team against Georgia. They sank just 37.1% of their shots and 10-of-18 free throws. They lost despite the Bulldogs hitting only 36.5% of their field goals. The difference was Georgia buried 7-of-15 three-pointers and had two other conventional three-point plays. Kentucky also committed 26 fouls — most of the starting lineup spent time in foul trouble — and the home team made 27-of-34 free throws.
Despite Archie Goodwin’s 20 points, he and the Wildcats’ other guards combined for just one assist. Bulldogs star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 24 points and, in an unusual twist, had some help. Nemanja Djurisic scored 12 and Donte’ Williams had 10 for the first Georgia team in 50 years with only one player averaging double digits.
Kentucky looked briefly like it had solved its recent road struggles. The Wildcats scored first and surged out to a 13-7 lead with 11:50 left in the first half, sparked by the energetic effort of freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein.
He had six points in his first seven minutes. His steal and subsequent Superman-style slam capped a 9-2 Kentucky run. The Wildcats had hit 6-of-12 field goals at that point. Then they went ice cold.
Kentucky missed 9-of-10 field goals … [For more on Kentucky tourney hopes take another big blow with loss to Georgia, click here.]