In this season’s final challenge to the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats’ (28-1, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) 51-game home winning streak, the Georgia Bulldogs (13-15, 4-10 SEC) come to Rupp Arena with upsetting the apple cart on its mind. The Cats, who have won 20 consecutive games, will be looking to take another step toward an undefeated SEC season, the school’s first since 2003.
It’s also Senior Night sendoff for Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas. Both players will experience that once in a lifetime feeling of bursting onto Cawood’s Court to the applause of 24,000 Wildcat fans, and both players are deserving of the goosebumps that experience is sure to provide.
Memorable Senior Night performances
In what is one of the greatest Senior Night performances in Kentucky history, Jack Givens and Rick Robey, along with fellow seniors Mike Phillips and James Lee, thoroughly dominated UNLV, their final Rupp Arena opponent, in March of 1978.
What: No. 1/1 UK (28-1, 14-0 SEC) vs. Georgia (13-15, 4-10 SEC)
When: Thursday, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Game notes: UK | Georgia
Senior feature: Miller’s time almost up, but his legacy will last forever
Senior feature: Vargas optimistic he can make late-season impact
Video interviews: Cal, Miller and Vargas
Senior salute: Video highlights of Miller, Vargas
Record: 13-15, 4-10 in SEC
Head coach: Mark Fox (48-34 at Georgia)
Player to watch: Gerald Robinson (14.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists)
Series history: UK leads 114-25
Last meeting: UK won 57-44 on Jan. 24
In UK’s 92-70 Senior Night win, Givens and Robey put an exclamation point on their Rupp careers by combining to score 50 points on 20-of-25 shooting. Vegas, not bereft of talent, was led by future pro Reggie Theus, but on this night the seniors in blue and white played with a purpose.
Kentucky found itself up 40-39 at the half, but the second stanza saw the Wildcat defense tighten considerably, as Phillips and Lee began scoring with relative ease. Together the two senior Cats scored 20 points on 9-of-14 field-goal accuracy, and Phillips grabbed a team-high nine boards for the contest.
Kentucky shot a scorching 64.5 percent from the floor for the game and limited Vegas to 31 second-half points. And it was the Kentucky seniors, playing in front of an enthusiastic Rupp Arena crowd for the final time, who made their final game at home a memorable one.
It was only six years later when Wildcat fans said goodbye to Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, Jim Master and Tom Heitz. The Class of 1984 said farewell to Kentucky fans in grand style, by besting LSU 90-68 behind the inspired play of UK’s Twin Towers, Bowie and Turpin.
Together the two intimidating big men scored 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting, as Bowie spent half the night hurting the Tigers from the free-throw line, making 10-of-11 charity tries. The duo’s sharp-shooting allowed Kentucky to sear the nets by connecting on 58.0 percent of its shots, while limiting LSU to only 41.9 percent accuracy.
Bowie owned the boards, grabbing 16 rebounds, and helped in limiting LSU star Jerry Reynolds to only eight points.
It was a brilliant home court ending to four great Kentucky careers.
Kentucky’s 51-game home court winning streak began, ironically enough, in the National Invitational Tournament, in a game played at Memorial Coliseum on March 17, 2009. Little did the 8,327 in attendance know they were witnessing the beginning of something very special.
From that humble beginning we’ve seen many great games and individual performances. Here are some of the best from the 2011-2012 season:
- In UK’s season-opener, Wildcat fans were emphatically introduced to freshman Anthony Davis in the Cats’ 108-58 win over Marist. Davis scored 23 points and blocked five shots. It was just a taste of what was to come from the man John Calipari calls Spider-man.
- On Dec. 1, 2011, Terrence Jones had a monster game in Rupp as he dropped in 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds in leading Kentucky to a 81-59 rout of St. John’s in the SEC/Big East Invitational.
- Only two days later, the top-ranked Cats welcomed No. 5 North Carolina to Rupp for yet another classic showdown between college basketball’s elite. In what might be the single best play by a Wildcat in Rupp Arena this season, it was the freshman Davis flying to the shooter and blocking John Henson’s game-winning shot attempt as the clock wound down, sealing UK’s 73-72 victory. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had his best offensive game of the year (to that point) and led the Cats with 17 points.
- It was Doron Lamb’s turn to take center stage on Dec. 12, 2011, as UK’s smooth shooting sophomore lit up Samford for 26 points, connecting on 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, as the Cats won big, 82-50.
- And on the last day of 2011, the U of L Cardinals made the short trip down Interstate-64 to renew the red-hot rivalry between the Cats and Cards. For the third year in a row the Wildcats did not disappoint, as two freshmen, Davis with 24 points and MKG with 18, led UK to victory in a 69-62 defensive battle. Neither team shot well, but Kentucky controlled the boards, 57-31, keying the Cats’ win. MKG snagged 19 boards, Jones 11 and Davis 10, out-rebounding UofL by nine all by themselves.
- On Jan. 17, in what might have been Kentucky’s best performance to that point, it dismantled an Arkansas team 86-63 after the Hogs tried to run with the Cats. Once again, Davis was big in the win, scoring 27 points, with 14 rebounds and seven blocks. Five Cats scored in double figures, once again emphasizing the offensive versatility of the team.
- Four days later, a tough Alabama Crimson Tide team came calling, bringing a penchant for physical play and a grind-it-out style of offense. Kentucky responded with crisp defense, forcing the Tide into six more turnovers than the home team and placing six players in double figures in UK’s 77-71 victory.
- On Jan. 31, the Wildcats welcomed the Tennessee Volunteers to town, and promptly overwhelmed the visitors, allowing UT to make only 16 field goals for the entire game. Defensively, it was Davis who once again dominated, blocking seven shots and playing a huge role in holding the Vols to 28.1 percent field-goal shooting. Davis, proving to be the total package, also led UK with 18 points and eight rebounds.
- Only a few days ago, in what might be his most complete game this year, Davis led UK to a 83-74 win over Vanderbilt with 28 points, making 10-of-11 shots, snaring 11 rebounds and blocking five shots. Kentucky shot 57.1 percent from the floor.
Georgia scouting report
The last time these two teams met, UK came out on top in a rugged 57-44 win on Jan. 24. Coincidentally, as we gear up for Senior Night, it was Miller, a senior, who proved a difference in the first meeting with 19 points. In Thursday”s contest, Georgia promises to bring the same deliberate style to the floor it did in Athens, Ga., in an attempt to dictate pace.
The Dawgs are a guard-oriented group, captained by senior point guard Gerald Robinson, the team’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. Robinson has outstanding handles and is athletic. Not big at 6-foot-1, he is quick enough to get penetration into the paint, his most dangerous attribute. Robinson does shoot the 3-pointer with some aplomb, having made 34.5 percent from distance on the season.
As a team, UGA likes to take the 3-pointer, particularly Dustin Ware, a 5-foot-11 shooting guard. Of Ware’s 198 shots, 159 have been treys, but he’s making only 30.8 percent. The Wildcat defenders, though, must hedge, or close out on him quickly, because he’s capable of getting into a shooter’s rhythm.
Freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, UGA’s second leading scorer, is a threat both in the paint and outside the arc. Another 3-point shooter, Caldwell-Pope has taken 196 treys and made 31.6 percent. He handles the ball well and can take his man off the dribble.
Defensively, Georgia will throw several different looks at UK, utilizing a 3-2, or 2-3 zone mixed in with some man-to-man. The Dawgs want to keep UK off balance and keep the game low scoring. Another ploy UGA will use is to press off of made free throws.
Only three times in the last 15 games has UGA scored 70-plus points. Coach Mark Fox would be elated with a game in the 50s, very similar to the last contest between the two teams.
Something to consider: The last time UK met Georgia on Senior Night was three years ago. It’s the last time Kentucky lost at home.
Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET, with television by ESPN. Rece Davis and Hubert Davis will make the call with Jay Bilas serving as a Twitter analyst throughout the game.
Team stats and rankings
(national rankings in parentheses)
|Scoring offense||77.8 (19)||61.5 (299)|
|Scoring defense||58.8 (15)||62.8 (70)|
|FG percentage||48.8 (11)||39.7 (321)|
|FG percentage defense||36.5 (1)||41.9 (119)|
|3-point percentage||37.6 (42)||32.0 (263)|
|3-point percentage defense||32.4 (95)||32.5 (103)|
|FT percentage||72.4 (70)||69.2 (170)|
|Rebound margin||+7.3 (10)||-1.4 (238)|
|Steals per game||6.5 (171)||6.4 (179)|
|Blocks per game||9.1 (1)||3.6 (136)|
|Assists per game||13.4 (125)||11.1 (292)|
|Turnover margin||+0.8 (138)||+1.4 (103)|
|Points per game||Anthony Davis (14.3)||Gerald Robinson (14.3)|
|Rebounds per game||Anthony Davis (9.8)||Donte’ Williams (5.4)|
|Field-goal percentage||Anthony Davis (65.8)||Donte’ Williams (45.6)|
|3-point percentage||Doron Lamb (48.3)||Nemanjic Djurisic (38.8)|
|Free-throw percentage||Doron Lamb (83.7)||Dustin Ware (88.9)|
|Assists per game||Marquis Teague (4.8)||Gerald Robinson (3.8)|
|Blocks per game||Anthony Davis (4.8)||Donte’ Williams (1.6)|
|Steals per game||Anthony Davis (1.5)||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1.8)|
Vargas optimistic he can make late-season impact