NASHVILLE — For the third straight year, Georgia is in the SEC semifinals, and for the second time in three years, the opponent is mighty Kentucky. Can Georgia break through and pull off the upset in what is essentially a Kentucky home game? The winner gets Texas A&M in Sunday’s championship game. Follow here for updates.
- Kentucky 93, Georgia 80 (final): That’s a wrap. Georgia played very well for most of this game. Kentucky just had too much. I’ll have reaction from the postgame scene and locker rooms soon.
- Kentucky 86, Georgia 75 (1:23): There were just too many big shots down the stretch by Kentucky. I don’t know if fatigue caught up with Georgia, or it was just a matter of not having enough to go blow-for-blow for 40 minutes with a talented opponent that – unlike LSU – was locked in all the way.
- Kentucky 81, Georgia 72 (3:50): The game’s getting away from the Bulldogs now. A Kentucky offensive rebound leads to a 3, and then Gaines tried a quick, ill-advised 3 on the other end. It missed, and another Kentucky basket led to a Georgia timeout.
- Kentucky 74, Georgia 69 (5:37): Georgia’s body language isn’t good right now. It’s taken a lot of shots this game and come back, but it has the look of a team that feels like it’s going against not only a good team, but a huge crowd and the officiating.
- Kentucky 72, Georgia 69 (6:50): I said at halftime that Georgia could have an advantage if it evened out free throws. Not happening. Kentucky has now attempted 22 free throws in the game, and Georgia just eight.
- Kentucky 68, Georgia 67 (8:00): Kentucky takes its first lead of the second half, and it’s fans are once agin on their feet and loud. The Cats will be going to the line after the timeout, after referee Joe Lindsey called a foul on Gaines. Mark Fox shook his head, upset there wasn’t a call on the other end when Mike Edwards couldn’t finish a driving dunk. … Yante Maten did what he could to put off this charge, hitting another hook shot and then a 3. But Tyler Ulis hit his own 3. … What we’re seeing now is Kentucky just has so much firepower. Georgia is basically playing at its potential offensively, and it still might not be enough.
- Georgia 62, Kentucky 59 (12:05): Frazier checks back in. He’s still wincing a bit. And he proceeded to try to do too much, attacking the basket and getting called for a charge.
- J.J. Frazier update: He just jogged out of the locker room and into the team huddle, leading to big cheers from Georgia fans behind their team’s bench. There’s no official word yet on if and when he’ll return. He’s not checking in during the timeout.
- Georgia 62, Kentucky 54 (12:59): The bench keeps making plays. Houston Kessler’s put-back made it 60-54, then Jackson blocked a jumper, leading to a Gaines drive to result in free throws.
- Georgia 58, Kentucky 54 (13:30): No sign yet of Frazier, who went to the locker room. I saw the trainer come over and advise the coaching staff of something.
- Georgia 55, Kentucky 51 (15:43): J.J. Frazier has to come out of the game after suffering some sort of lower leg injury. He was also hurt briefly last night but returned quickly. Georgia obviously hopes it’s the same short-lived injury this time.
- Georgia 53, Kentucky 51 (16:30): Mark Fox is still subbing liberally, sending Turtle Jackson and Mike Edwards back in early. E’Torrion Wilridge, also coming off the bench, had a nice tipped block. The bench will continue to play for a little bit, you’d imagine, especially if fouls become an issue. Charles Mann picked up his third foul about a minute ago.
- Georgia can’t possibly play better, can it? Well yes it can, on the defensive end. Kentucky is very good, yes, but it does have seven offensive rebounds and has only turned it over three times. There’s room for Georgia to force a few more. But that’s nitpicking …
- And it’s why Georgia still has a herculean task ahead of it. The Bulldogs shot the lights out (19-for-31 from the field, 6-for-12 on 3s), and yet only leads by five. It’s likely to cool off, especially if tired legs start to kick in. But …
- That’s why Mark Fox’s platooning in the first half was brilliant strategy. Letting Turtle Jackson play his first extended action (nine minutes) on the largest stage of the season was an incredible risk, but he was a four-star prospect at one point committed to UConn. He’s capable, and showing it. Yante Maten only played 13 minutes in the first half, the most of any Bulldog, with Mann getting 12 minutes and Frazier and Gaines getting 10 each. Kenny Paul Geno and Mike Edwards played 10 minutes off the bench. Will tired legs still kick in? Maybe, but Fox has done everything he can to forestall it.
- But here’s another area where Georgia could, if it play it’s cards right, get back an advantage: It only shot six free throws, while Kentucky shot 15. Georgia never reached the bonus while Kentucky got there pretty quick.
- Georgia 49, Kentucky 44 (halftime): What a half of basketball. For both sides, but mainly Georgia, which does not look a team playing for the third time in three days. It doesn’t look like the team we’ve seen all year, even during the five-game winning streak. This offense is just incredible.
- Georgia 48, Kentucky 40 (1:14): Georgia has already equaled the amount of points it scored the entire first game against Kentucky.
- Georgia 45, Kentucky 38 (1:36): What a first half for Turtle Jackson, who sinks his second 3 of the game, after entering the game with three 3s all season. That followed a beautiful turnaround hook shot by Yante Maten and a 3 by Charles Mann. Somehow Georgia extended the lead with Gaines and Frazier on the bench. This is already Georgia’s highest-scoring first half of the season, and it’s seven points past what LSU had all of the previous game on this same floor.
- Georgia 37, Kentucky 36 (4:09): Surely I’m jinxing Georgia, but here’s an amazing stat: The Bulldogs have nine team fouls, but nobody has more than one foul.
- Kentucky 34, Georgia 34 (5:15): The Cats take their first lead of the game. – and Frazier promptly answers with a floater to tie it.
- Georgia 30, Kentucky 29 (7:09): Both of these teams are on pace to outscore LSU in the first half alone. … Georgia is getting some great minutes from its bench, and is now running the offense through Maten in the blocks. It wants to stay in the game long enough for Gaines and Frazier to have fresh enough legs to hit some outside shots. Kentucky, meanwhile, has Tyler Ulis, who has gotten quite hot. Ulis and Jamal Murray have combined for 22 of Kentucky’s 29 points.
- Georgia 23, Kentucky 21 (9:43): Here comes Kentucky. The Cats are hitting their shots now, while the Bulldogs went cold after that 10-for-14 start. J.J. Frazier just got fouled shooting a 3, which was a bit of a gift. The Bulldogs will take it, along with any other break they can possibly get.
- Georgia 23, Kentucky 14 (12:31): I’m really impressed with how the Bulldogs handled the last two possessions. They each came after Kentucky baskets – every time the Wildcats score you realize what the Bulldogs are up against crowd-wise – but Georgia answered with layups from Mike Edwards and Charles Mann. The Bulldogs are very composed right now and handling the environment the best they can.
- Georgia 15, Kentucky 5 (15:21): Now Turtle Jackson gets into the act, nailing a 3, and John Calipari uses a timeout. Georgia has started 6-of-9 from the field and is out-rebounding Kentucky 6-2. This is just great energy from the Bulldogs so far, and playing within themselves. … Mark Fox has already used 10 players, and is subbing liberally, the early lead buying him some bench time for the regulars. Three reserves are in the game as I type this, with neither Gaines or Frazier on the court.
- Georgia 12, Kentucky 5 (17:15): Kenny Gaines and the Bulldogs are off to a great start, and the blue-clad fans are quiet for now. Gaines just hit a 3 on the break, giving him eight points already. There’s great energy out of the Bulldogs, on both ends of the court. And they’re out to this early lead without any points from J.J. Frazier yet. … Mark Fox is also keenly aware of his guys playing a third game in three days, and a second game in 244 hours. He’s already played nine guys, with early playing time for Turtle Jackson, giving Gaines, Frazier and Mann some rest.
- Georgia 2, Kentucky 0 (19:30): Georgia’s first offensive set of the game is for a Kenny Gaines jumper, and he made it. That’s notable based on Gaines’ relatively quiet tournament so far. Mark Fox is trying to get his senior going early, knowing they’ll need him.
- Does Georgia have a chance in this game? Sure it does. Not a great one, but a chance. It will require – at least in my humble opinion – a game in which it essentially mucks it up and trades 3s for 2s. It can’t let Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe get a bunch of open outside shots. One reason the game in Lexington got out of hand early was Derek Willis got some open 3s early in the game and nailed them. Georgia was then playing from behind the whole time. This time Georgia needs to clog the outside and make the Wildcats – who aren’t that big down low – find points in the paint. On the other end, the Bulldogs need to run smooth sets, and run the offense through Yante Maten. Make it a high-low attack where Maten either gets baskets in the lane or passes to the wings for open shots or drives.
- It’s hard to see Georgia winning without J.J. Frazier pouring in some points, but it doesn’t have to be just him. Kenny Gaines has had a very quiet tournament so far. He might be due.
- The problem for Georgia is that beyond the top four – Charles Mann being the fourth – there just isn’t much dependable scoring. Kentucky has so many more options. That’s why a slower pace and less possessions might favor Georgia.
- If you went by betting lines the most competitive game figured to be the first semifinal. As it turns out Texas A&M-LSU really is the undercard, thanks to offensive ineptitude by LSU that could only be laughed at. I’m typing this as the Tigers only have 28 points with four minutes left. Basically, it will be virtually impossible for anyone to look as bad as LSU did in this building today. Or in this tournament, period.
- Kentucky and Georgia are the only two teams to reach the semifinals of the past three SEC tournaments. In fact they were the only two to reach the previous two.
- Georgia’s record against Kentucky in the SEC tournament is 1-9, the most recent meeting coming two years ago. Kentucky won that game, 70-58.
UGA ENGAGES IN NCAA LOBBYING
Here are three lines from the team notes, compiled by communications maven Mike Mobley:
Georgia’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks No. 6 nationally in the NCAA RPI. By comparison, the eight “last teams in” in the most quoted bracketology sport an average a non-con SOS of 140.
Georgia was 7-4 in non-conference play despite playing six of 11 games without a starter in the current rotation – Derek Ogbeide for five games and Kenny Gaines for one.
One indicator that UGA may be closer than most think is the KPI rankings – rumored to be a “favorite in the room” of the selection committee – which currently has the Bulldogs as the first team out of the bracket.
KPI stands for the Ken Pomeroy stats. There’s conflicting information out there on how much the committee actually looks at those, but they’re definitely respect within the industry.
Anyway, the belief here – by this reporter – is that if Georgia pulls off the upset it will be a very strong candidate for an at-large bid. (And of course it would have a chance to get the automatic bid by knocking off Texas A&M on Sunday.) But will Georgia be able to beat two teams it lost to by 34 points in the regular season? Well, in March you never know.