Georgia looks to derail No. 1 Kentucky's quest for history
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - With a perfect regular season in sight, No. 1 Kentucky looks downright unstoppable.
Georgia is the next team standing in the way, hoping to somehow trip up the Wildcats.
Good luck with that.
The team the Bulldogs will be hosting on Tuesday night has won its first 29 games, looking very much like one of the greatest groups in college basketball history.
''There are a lot of talented teams,'' Georgia coach Mark Fox said. ''But this team is talented and big and deep. And then they combine great unselfishness with that. That makes `em a terrific team.''
There's a lot on the line for the Bulldogs, as well.
Georgia (19-9, 10-6) hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2011. While the Bulldogs have a strong RPI rating and most projections put them in the 68-team field, a win over Kentucky would surely clinch a spot - no matter what happens in the regular-season finale or the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Insisting the Bulldogs already have an impressive resume, Fox said his team will approach the game no different than any other.
''In the eyes of the NCAA selection committee, I think that Kansas and (North) Carolina will likely get in the tournament. Well, they couldn't beat Kentucky,'' Fox said Monday at the team's training facility. ''Georgia doesn't have to beat Kentucky to go to the NCAA tournament. Because if that was the standard, a lot of teams wouldn't go. But that's not what we're concerned about. We're concerned about playing the best basketball we can because it is a special opportunity. They've got a great, great team. Their team should be celebrated.''
Kentucky had some close calls early on in SEC play, going to overtime at home against Mississippi and needing two overtimes to win at Texas A&M.
But the Wildcats are 16-0 in the conference and really stepped up their play over the last five games, winning by an average of more than 24 points. They're coming off an 84-67 rout of No. 18 Arkansas, clearly playing some of their best basketball at the most important time of the season.
Kentucky knocked off Georgia in their first meeting at Lexington, building a big lead at halftime and withstanding a late charge by the Bulldogs for a 69-58 victory.
Coach John Calipari said that game is irrelevant, because Georgia was missing one of its best players, senior Marcus Thornton, who was sidelined by a concussion. The Bulldogs are at full strength now, having won three in a row including a 68-44 rout of Missouri this past weekend - the team's largest SEC victory under Fox.
''Are they playing with a purpose, five guys? Oh yes,'' Calipari said. ''They run their stuff. They know how they're supposed to play and they play that way. They create the kind of shots they want to create, they put you in situations and they know where they're going to find their shots. They do a good job.''
Usually overshadowed at their football-centric school, the Bulldogs will finally get some well-deserved hoops attention in their final home game of the season. The game has long been a sellout, and Georgia fans were urged to take part in a ''blackout'' - wearing all black clothing to ramp up the intensity.
The key for Georgia is to use that emotion wisely. If the players get too jacked up, they could make the sort of silly mistakes that just won't do against a team of Kentucky's caliber.
''The atmosphere is going to be great,'' senior forward Nemanja Djurisic said. ''A win would be great. Obviously, they're undefeated all season. No one else has beaten them. They're a great team. Everyone knows that. They're a very tough, athletic team. But it's one team against another team. We do have the home-court advantage. We do have the atmosphere behind us. There's going to be some emotions, but you have to be businesslike and try to focus on the game.''
The biggest challenge for the Bulldogs, as for most teams, will be dealing with Kentucky's size. Their front line includes 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns and 6-10 Trey Lyles. Georgia doesn't have a regular taller than 6-8.
''Obviously, it will be a challenge,'' Thornton said. ''But we're looking forward to it. This is what you play your whole life for.''
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Louisville, Kentucky contributed to this report.
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