Kentucky has no time to savor rout of Louisville

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The good news is that No. 16 Kentucky will enter SEC play at 6 p.m. New Year’s Eve coming off its best game of the season, a 90-61 rout of rival Louisville.

The bad news? That victory came Dec. 29, meaning Kentucky (10-2) has just one day to get ready for Georgia (9-2).

“We’ve got a quick flip,” coach John Calipari said Friday afternoon. “I’ve got to go to the office here in a minute and watch this (Louisville) tape, and then I’ve got to watch our Georgia game last year. Hopefully we didn’t play them twice because then I’ve got to watch both of them. And then I’ve got to watch the last couple of times they played because we play Sunday afternoon.”

Kentucky, in fact, played Georgia three times last season, winning all three times. The Wildcats defeated the Bulldogs 90-81 in overtime on Jan. 31 in Lexington, 82-77 on Feb. 18 in Athens and 71-60 March 10 in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

In two of those wins, Georgia was without Yante Maten. In fact, he hurt his knee early in the Kentucky game on Feb. 18 and was lost for the season.

But Maten, a 6-foot, 8-inch senior forward, is back this year, leading Georgia at 20.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. The rebounding average leads the SEC, the scoring average ranks second.

Already this year Maten has moved into the top 10 all-time for career scoring and rebounding at Georgia in helping the Bulldogs to its best start during coach Mark Fox’s nine seasons.

Of Georgia’s nine wins, three have come against teams that participated in last year’s NCAA Tournament – an 83-81 overtime win against Saint Mary’s, a 73-66 win at Marquette and an 87-82 win over Winthrop.

The Bulldogs have lost to San Diego State and at UMass.

For the season, Georgia is shooting 46 percent from the field, including 34.7 percent from 3-point range. They average 40.5 rebounds for a plus-8 margin against opponents and have 159 assists vs. 149 turnovers.

Kentucky will enter Sunday’s game riding the wake of the Louisville rout.

“This kind of performance from your team when you coach in this environment, in this kind of game, it’s big time,” Calipari said. “That’s as good as we play.”

The win came after losing to UCLA 83-75 in New Orleans on Dec. 22, snapping a seven-game win streak.

“I told them there was an arrogance when we played UCLA unearned. We haven’t done anything yet,” Calipari said. “And the other team was playing us to prove individually, ‘I’m better than you,’ and their team collectively and their coach, ‘We are better than you.’ We didn’t fight. We just let it happen.

“If you want to do this for a living, you’d better fight or someone else is going to fight and you’re going to be watching TV,” Calipari added. “You’d better fight for what you want.”

Fight, the Wildcats did, crushing Louisville by 29 points, the most lopsided margin in the rivalry since 1999. Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander enjoyed his best day with a career-high 24 points.

“Shai hasn’t had all the accolades,” Calipari said. “We’ve had a lot of guys in there that have been told how great they are for a long time. You start believing that. But the guy playing against you doesn’t believe it. He’s trying to take your heart out. And you’ve got to fight back. And we’re learning.”

After Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky got 16 points from P.J. Washington, 14 from Hamidou Diallo and 13 from Quade Green. Nick Richards and Kevin Knox struggled mightily, but still managed seven rebounds each. All six players are freshmen, or at least they were until Friday.

“I said today before the game, ‘We’re no longer freshmen, I’m not saying it anymore, we’re not freshmen now,'” Calipari said. “We’re 11 games in, we are not freshmen.”