LEXINGTON, Ky. — The No. 1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, the lone unbeaten team in America, pushed their spotless record to 22-0 with a 69-58 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs on Tuesday at Rupp Arena.
But it didn’t come easy, especially considering the Bulldogs (14-7, 5-4 SEC) were without three players, two reserves and leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton. It was Georgia’s second straight game without Thornton, who suffered a concussion last week. For its part, Kentucky was missing two power forwards — freshman Trey Lyles, who is sick, and junior Alex Poythress, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.
“We need to play a little bit faster, gotta score some in transition,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I thought we did that in the first half, didn’t do so well in the second.”
Despite leading by as many as 17 points in the first half, Kentucky was never able to put Georgia away. The Bulldogs trimmed the lead to as few as six points at 60-54 with four minutes remaining. With 1:57 left, UK led by five, 63-58, before scoring the final six points.
“They have great size. We have a scrappy team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We didn’t do anything really special. We just played hard. We had some guys grow up at halftime and decide to play.”
Of the players still standing, it was Kentucky sophomore guard Andrew Harrison who kept the Wildcats afloat and helped secure a 9-0 record in SEC play. Harrison scored a season-best 23 points. In one of his best efforts of the season, the oft-maligned point guard made 8-of-16 shots to go with seven assists.
“We’ve been trying to get Andrew to be more aggressive,” Calipari said. “There were a couple of plays early when I said, ‘Quit pulling it out. If they throw it to you, attack, make plays, make plays for your teammates.”
Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns recorded a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Towns and Harrison were the only two UK players to score in double figures.
“Karl was absolutely a beast in there,” Calipari said.
Georgia kept it close by dominating Kentucky on the boards. With 7:27 left in the game, the Bulldogs had actually doubled up UK, 34-17, and ended the game with a 12-rebound advantage, 36-24. At one point, Georgia also held Kentucky scoreless for nearly four minutes.
The Bulldogs were led by senior forward Nemanja Djurisic with 17 points and seven rebounds. Freshman forward Yante Maten added 13 points and nine rebounds.
But in the end, Georgia lost by 11 and Fox knows what will be coming next from critics of the Southeastern Conference.
“What makes me angry is, why does everybody in this league have to beat Kentucky to be considered an NCAA Tournament team while everyone says they would be undefeated in whatever league they played?” Fox asked. “I don’t think it should be perceived that Kentucky played bad. It might be because the other teams are competitive.”
Kentucky came out of the gate seemingly determined to keep its unbeaten record intact as the Wildcats opened an 11-1 lead on Georgia. Harrison and forward Towns each had four points. Guard Dominique Hawkins scored the remaining basket on a three-pointer.
At one point, the Bulldogs were shooting 60 percent against the nation’s top defensive team.
Kentucky’s lead was just five points at 24-19 with 6:32 remaining in the first half when the nation’s top-ranked team flexed its muscle. The Wildcats erupted for a 10-0 run to lead 34-19 with 3:59 to play. Towns scored five of the 10 points while freshman guards Booker and Tyler Ulis had the other baskets.
The first half closed with Kentucky leading 42-27. Harrison paced Kentucky with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He also had five of UK’s 11 assists. Towns was next with 11 points and Booker had seven.
NOTES: F Marcus Thornton joins sophomore G Juwan Parker, who has missed the past four games with an Achilles tendon issue, and sophomore G Kenny Paul Geno, who has missed seven games with a broken wrist … Kentucky entered the game owning a 117-26 all-time record against Georgia, including a 57-5 in Lexington … UK junior F Willie Cauley-Stein is the first player in school history with at least 200
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