Some early thoughts on Kentucky-Georgia

harrisonandrew1ATLANTA — Some morning-after notes as Kentucky celebrates its impressive 85-67 win over LSU last night and prepares to play Georgia in today’s 3:30 p.m. semifinal.

– Kentucky gets a Georgia team that beat Ole Miss 75-73 in the late game at the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs scored one field goal in the final 6:49, but that was Charles Mann’s winning bucket with 17 seconds remaining.

Kentucky handily won the only regular-season meeting between the two schools, romping 79-54 at Rupp Arena. It was one of the more consistent UK efforts. The Cats led 34-22 at the half, then outscored the Bulldogs 45-32 in the second half.

It may have also been one of the most misleading. (“A damp squib,” writes the AJC’s Mark Bradley). Georgia was without injured shooting guards Kenny Gaines (bruised thigh) and Juwan Parker (hamstring). Gaines is Georgia’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points per game. (Mann averages 13.5.) Parker has been a valuable reserve, averaging 4.2 points per game.

– Maybe the most memorable thing from the first UK-Georgia meeting happened in the post-game when Bulldogs coach Mark Fox was asked about the Kentucky fans.

“What you want me to comment on the fan base?” said an obviously irritated Fox. “They don’t need any more pats on the back.”

– By the way, I’ll say it again, had not Florida gone undefeated in league play, Fox would have won Coach of the Year honors.

– Fox picked up a technical last night in the Ole Miss game, a game that included 51 fouls called.

– Georgia went 12-6 in the league — tying UK for second place — by outrebounding opponents and getting to the foul line. Georgia’s rebound margin stands at +4.8 and the Bulldogs have taken 116 more free throws than their opponents. Georgia went 31-of-42 from the foul line in the win over Ole Miss, while the Rebels were 21-of-31.

– That was exactly the same formula Kentucky used last night to pound LSU. The Cats tripled LSU in second-chance points 21-7 and got to the foul line 41 times. That they made just 26 should be something of a worry, but during one important second-half stretch made 13 of 14 free throws.

– The UK-LSU game in many ways mimicked the UK-Ole Miss game in Oxford on Feb. 18. At Ole Miss, UK played a fabulous first half, streaking to a 42-25 lead at intermission. Ole Miss cut the lead all the way to six points before the Cats won by 14. Kentucky led LSU 42-32 at the half last night before the Tigers carved the deficit to a one-possession game, 52-49, and Kentucky restored order to win by 18.

– LSU’s Shavon Coleman, the star of the Tigers’ second-round win over Alabama on Thursday night, got off to a torrid start, nailing two three-point shots in the game’s first 59 seconds. The latter prompted a quick John Calipari timeout. Coleman scored just one more field goal the rest of the game, that on a rebound basket at the first-half buzzer. He added a pair of free throws at the 5:09 mark of the second half.

– I thought LSU coach Johnny Jones kept star forward Johnny O’Bryant on the bench with four fouls far too long in the second half. O’Bryant picked up his fourth foul at the 13:24 mark. LSU trailed 52-45 at the time. O’Bryant didn’t return there was 5:20 remaining. UK had stretched the lead to 67-57.

– Jones said afterward that the way Kentucky was taking the ball at O’Bryant he was afraid his big man would foul out sooner. O’Bryant scored two field goals in the second half, the first at the 15:34 mark. His second came with 42 seconds left and the game long decided.

– Kentucky’s Alex Poythress fouled out while scoring just one field goal, but it was a big one. His three-pointer out of the left corner with 11:25 left in the game pushed Kentucky’s lead back out to six points at 55-49. It came after a 9-1 LSU run had cut the Kentucky lead to three points.

– One of the keener observers of Kentucky basketball is Jon Hood, the senior reserve. Thought Hood made just such an observation in the locker room after the game, telling Jerry Tipton that Willie Cauley-Stein is a key to this team. “He plays well, we play well,” Hood said.

– Cauley-Stein had eight points, six rebounds and six blocked shots. In the previous two games against LSU, the sophomore had 10 points and 12 rebounds, with just three blocked shots.

– Calipari was correct after the game when he said Randle missed enough one-footers to have a 30-point game. But Randle was active and aggressive, much like the Randle that helped Kentucky on that 15-0 run at Florida.

– Much was made of Randle’s comment that Calipari had the players shred the DVDs of the team’s games during the year. Fresh start. No rearview mirror.

I was on Jordy Hultberg’s radio show out of Louisiana on Friday and we talked about Calipari’s “tweak” talk, which I said was part of the coach playing mind games with his team, trying to boost its confidence after a disappointing season.

“Brother,” said Hultberg, “I played for the king of mind games.”

That was the one and only Dale Brown.

– You could tell Calipari was feeling it after the game with his “Let’s see if we can continue on this path and really make some people mad” comment. He liked the way his team played.

– Of course, the question is can Kentucky keep it up today? The Cats looked refreshed and rejuvenated last night against LSU. And despite Calipari’s claim that we had not figured out the infamous “tweak” it did appear that the team shared the ball much better. The 15 assists seemed like a multitude matched against the team’s efforts in that area down the stretch.

– By the way, Kentucky shot 50 percent from the floor in that first meeting with Georgia. The Cats were outrebounded 35-32, but made 16 of 20 free throws. And the Cats had a key 19-2 run in the first half.

– Georgia won eight of it last 10 games in the regular season, the two losses coming at Tennessee (67-48) and Arkansas (87-75). Mark Fox’s team finished the year with a 69-61 win at LSU.

And as Chip Towers wrote in the AJC this morning, “Georgia has been looking forward to getting another crack at Kentucky ever since getting blown out at Rupp Arena six weeks ago.”

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