No. 14 Kentucky blows out Georgia, 79-54
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky players weren’t shocked by the numerous scoring opportunities they had against a depleted Georgia lineup with the preparation they had put in.
Most satisfying for the 14th-ranked Wildcats was taking advantage of those chances – with 7-foot sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein among the happiest contributors by having a hand in other areas before finding the basket.
Freshman guard Aaron Harrison helped set the tone by scoring 15 points as Kentucky pulled away for a 79-54 victory Saturday.
Julius Randle added 14 points while James Young had 13, including a couple of second-half 3-pointers, for Kentucky (15-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference), which won its third straight thanks to 50 percent shooting. The Wildcats were 29 of 58 from the field and worked around the Bulldogs’ zone for 16 assists.
”This was just a more focused game,” said Harrison, who made 6 of 10 attempts from the field and had three assists. ”Everybody was focused and we just came out and wanted to make a statement as a team. … We all had fun. We played well and played together.”
Alex Poythress had 11 points for Kentucky, which had 11 of 12 players score and finished 5 of 12 from 3-point range. Cauley-Stein recovered from a recent lull with eight points, six steals, six blocks and three rebounds in 26 minutes.
Most of his scoring came during a second half in which Kentucky shot 52 percent to wear down Georgia, which outrebounded Kentucky 35-32 but shot just 16 of 49 (33 percent) and was outscored 36-24 in the paint in the only regular season meeting between the schools.
”I just got back to the roots of the game and just flying around, contesting shots and running the floor,” said Cauley-Stein, who had combined for just three points, two blocks and 10 rebounds in his previous three games.
Georgia (10-8, 4-2) had gotten within 37-31 with 16:21 remaining before the Wildcats steadily built a double-digit lead that rarely got below 20 points over the final 8 minutes. Kentucky converted 20 Georgia turnovers into 19 points and dominated fast break (20-6) and bench scoring (22-7).
Brandon Morris had 15 points for Georgia, which played without starting guard Kenny Gaines and backup Juwan Parker because of thigh and hamstring injuries, respectively. That resulted in a four-forward starting lineup that eventually helped the Bulldogs control the boards, but they couldn’t stop Kentucky inside or outside.
”That was an SEC battle in which they whooped us,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said of the Wildcats. ”We couldn’t slow them down enough to get back in it and just couldn’t score enough today to hang in there and make it a threat long enough.”
Georgia meanwhile had its two-game winning streak stopped three days after a 97-76 drubbing of South Carolina highlighted by a school record-tying 50 free throw attempts. The Bulldogs had built their modest surge with strong rebounding and entered Saturday with a +10.4 margin per game to rank just ahead of third-place Wildcats (+10.0) in SEC play.
Though Georgia succeeded in outrebounding Kentucky, it couldn’t get the loose ball when it needed to in the second half. And while Morris picked up the offensive load, he scored just three points in the second half.
Leading scorer Charles Mann, Georgia’s only starting guard, scored nine points on 1-of-9 shooting. Marcus Thornton had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Kentucky coach John Calipari stayed with Cauley-Stein despite his slump, but was prepared to go to fellow 7-footer Dakari Johnson following his solid game against Texas A&M. Cauley-Stein steadily delivered, beginning with five steals and three blocks in the first half to help Kentucky’s strong defensive start that held Georgia to 29 percent shooting and resulted in the Wildcats’ 34-22 halftime lead.
Aaron Harrison, Young, Randle and Poythress got things going in the second half, and it was just a matter of time before Kentucky’s center got involved. Cauley-Stein appeared more confident and helped Kentucky put the Bulldogs away before 23,367 who made it to Rupp Arena despite several inches of snow that fell overnight.
”He was in a totally different frame of mind, and he performed,” Calipari said of Cauley-Stein. ”You still had the dregs in there, but I thought he played well (with) blocks, steals, he moved his feet, made some baskets. … That’s who he is for us.”