This wasn’t the time for Georgia to face No. 1 Kentucky

The Bulldogs had no answer for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 points, 11 rebounds) and No. 1 Kentucky, losing 57-44. (AP photo)

The Bulldogs had no answer for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 points, 11 rebounds) and No. 1 Kentucky, losing 57-44. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 11:20 p.m.)

ATHENS – In his second season on the campus-that-doesn’t-hold-bonfires-for-basketball, Mark Fox led Georgia to a winning conference record, an NCAA tournament berth and its first 20-plus win season in nine years – or 15 years, depending on if you factor in the grease stain left by Jim Harrick (NCAA probation, vacated victories, shame).

Fox has been, by any measure, an immediate success. The fact that Georgia was struggling this season entering Tuesday night’s game against No. 1 Kentucky should not have led to some catastrophic conclusion. Like, say, “Agggh! Ron Jirsa!”

“I think the educated fans and media members can look at us and know what we’ve lost,” Fox said. “But I have no issues with the way we’re going about things on the court. We have no academic issues. We have no social [off court] issues. When I first came here, there were some issues. But now we’re two years into changing the culture of Georgia basketball.”

Problem is, culture can’t score. Culture can’t defend. Culture can’t rebound. Culture generally arrives before recruiting, player depth and a string of winning seasons.

Enter: The Bulldogs of 2011-12.

They’re now 1-5 in SEC (10-10 overall) after Tuesday’s 57-44 loss to the Wildcats. The game didn’t seem as close as 13 points. Kentucky led by 16 at 46-30 early in the second half and then just played as well as it needed to — which wasn’t very well.

In short, Georgia wasn’t ready for a game like this. It probably won’t be this season. The Dogs play hard and for stretches they can even be impressive. They’re just not very good. Losing forward Marcus Thornton for five games to a knee injury thinned an already thin cast. Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, the Dogs’ two best players from last season, left early for the NBA.

Some basketball programs can withstand two early defections to the pros. Not Georgia. The Dogs shot 34.5 percent (19 for 55) and were outrebounded 41-26. The Wildcats’ bench — basically, players: Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer — outscored the Georgia bench (three) 25-1. That’s all you need to know about the respective talent depth of the teams.

Fox afterward referenced a late first-half stretch when the Dogs, after trailing 23-22, were outscored 15-4. “That little burp in the first half was extremely costly,” he said.

What some would call a burp, others would call a market correction.

Kentucky is 20-1 record (the only loss coming by one point at Indiana). Unlike Georgia, the Wildcats can withstand player losses. Two years ago, they had five players drafted in the first round. Then they went to the Final Four anyway. This past draft, coach John Calipari lost three more players to the NBA (one in the first round). Yet, they’re ranked No. 1.

Kentucky doesn’t recruit in basketball so much as it opens the door.

Fox is still on the doorstep, knocking.

But he’s making progress. He’s keeping some touted recruits from leaving the state. Last year Georgia landed Greenville guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who starts as a freshman. Two months ago, during the early signing period, he signed three key players: Whitefield Academy (Mableton) guard Kenny Gaines, Milton guard Charles Mann and Miller Grove (Lithonia) forward Brandon Morris. (Gaines has been ranked as one of the top 25 shooting guards in the nation.)

It’s not quite the blur of high school All-Americans that head to Lexington every season. (Kentucky has four players on the Naismith preseason watch list, joining only North Carolina with that many.) But it’s a start.

“I like where we’re going, I like the fact these guys are working together, getting better,” Fox said. “The future is not something I’m worried about.”

Understand something: Fox is not rebuilding. He is building.

This is only Season 3 for him in Athens. He took over a program that hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since March 2002 over Murray State (and that was vacated).

“A program has to have depth to withstand [player] losses and maintain continuity,” Fox said. “I can’t give you an accurate assessment [when that happens]. It’s going to take time.”

We see that.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

122 comments Add your comment

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
8:23 pm

Sorry folks. Just realized that commenting had been closed since I posted this. Not sure why, but problem has been fixed.

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
8:29 pm

Seminole Ed

January 24th, 2012
8:31 pm

Does that mean I’m first?

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
8:32 pm

Jeff let us know if you spot this guy tonight.. http://www.ajc.com/news/police-man-exposed-himself-1314712.html…I am sure you will see about 4000 just like him but just keep an eye out. Be safe.

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
8:33 pm

No ED it means you are 3rd including JEFF.

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
8:35 pm

Jeff do you think the Dwags really have a shot?
and in the article it should be Whitfield Academy. It used to be Mount Vernon Christian Academy on Northside drive.

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
8:37 pm

Seminole Ed — No. I’M FIRST!

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
8:38 pm

5150 –If he’s sitting near me, I’ll move.

Coop

January 24th, 2012
8:39 pm

As tough as it is to watch at times this season, it doesn’t compare with the Jirsa years. Jirsa inherited good players from Tubby Smith and simply was incompetent. Nice guy, couldn’t coach. Coach Fox knows how to coach. This is just a rough spot in the road. Hang in there Dawgs!

Abnerish

January 24th, 2012
8:42 pm

“Understand something: Fox is not rebuilding. He is building.”

Very good point. I wish all Bulldawg fans would understand that and give him the time it’s going to take to make us consistently good.

Calipari

January 24th, 2012
8:50 pm

I can’t believe I am still coaching as much as I have cheated. I cheated at U.Mass., then at Memphis, and now I’m cheating more than ever at Ky.

Ha ha ha. The NCAA can’t catch me.
Student athletes? What is that?

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
8:53 pm

Calipari took the book HARRICK wrote from his beat downs and is make the right plays not to get caught.

bamaguy

January 24th, 2012
8:57 pm

This could be interesting (for about ten minutes). Georgia (or Tech) could not even beat Alabama and you think you have a shot with UK?

On a related note, our thanks to UGA for passing up Anthony Grant for Fox. We will always be grateful.

Falah

January 24th, 2012
8:58 pm

Why does Richt keep signing lowlife woman-beaters like Commings?

Da Ref

January 24th, 2012
9:00 pm

Kentucky 112, UGA 43

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:04 pm

When he could be signing murderers like Tech’s Crittenton.

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:04 pm

Let’s do THIS Dawgs!

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
9:05 pm

Heath Crittenton was not a member of the Tech team or a tech student. COMMINGS is on the team and enrolled in UGa still Big Difference MORON.

ub

January 24th, 2012
9:07 pm

Fox will make UGA very strog in B-ball very soon. Go DAWGS!

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:08 pm

A lot of scattered blue here but Georgia fans loud.

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:11 pm

Dogs off to a cold start.

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
9:11 pm

48 i really don’t think you want to watch this. maybe you should turn on the State of the disUnion Address. LOL

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:13 pm

Okay, UOYourself, here is a picture of hm not being on the team: http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/former-georgia-tech-star-1146197.html

I think you’re smoking some of that bad stuff Joe Hamilton has.

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:14 pm

Dawgs are doin THIS so far! Looking good!

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:14 pm

Threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:16 pm

Dogs up by a point 12-11 with a pair of 3s fro, Djurisic despite fact Kentucky has hit 4 of 5 from floor.

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:16 pm

The Montenegro nightmare! 42! with the threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee !

kral

January 24th, 2012
9:16 pm

we got to enjoy the 1st 5 minutes toad

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:17 pm

Jeff he is the Montenegro Nghtmare!

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:20 pm

John Calipari sure looks funny when he gets mad.

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:21 pm

This oughta help with the selection committee :)

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:22 pm

Dawg48 — I’ll try to remember that. Assume the “Montenegro Nightmare” hasn’t been copyrighted yet.

promethius

January 24th, 2012
9:22 pm

Uga leading No. 1 at home and field house quiet as a mouse. Now I know why Fox can’t recruit to UGa. All the’ve got there are football heads.

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:24 pm

Kentucky has missed its last 3 shots.

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:25 pm

And there goes that streak.

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
9:26 pm

@Heath…….. you MORON can you even read the Link you posted? Crittenton was not at TECH. COMMING is on the UGa team and still in school. Crittenton is a grown man in the NBA. You get the F…ing difference MORON? Tech has nothing to do with his actions at this time.

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:27 pm

Kentucky on a 10-0 run. Time out Georgia.

promethius

January 24th, 2012
9:29 pm

Wonder how Gurley and Marshall are going to enjoy basketball season at UGa. I bet they will be watching UNC and Duke.

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:29 pm

But they recruited him. They signed him. The original poster was saying only UGA would sign someone who could be violent. Not fine, civilized, rational men like yourself who don’t let their emotions get the better of them and call names like a 3 year old. My point was that everyone signs them. Still confused?

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:30 pm

Miami 23 GT 15

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:31 pm

Nice little run by the Dogs. Showing some fight. Only a 3 pt game (23-20) with 7:02 left in half.

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:31 pm

Oh wait, I see you wrote moron in caps. That means you mean BUSINESS, pal.

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:31 pm

Throw some water on Djurisic he is on fire! He is all we have as of now.

Dawg48

January 24th, 2012
9:33 pm

Guys can we have a peaceful night please! People are responsible for there own actions not a school!

kral

January 24th, 2012
9:33 pm

moments of fun can be so fleeting at times

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:33 pm

That was my point.

Jeff Schultz

January 24th, 2012
9:34 pm

Shooting thus far: Georgia 9 for 21, Kentucky 8 for 14.

5150 UOAD

January 24th, 2012
9:35 pm

48 I don’t have TECH on cable so I am not watching.

Dr. Knockafuji

January 24th, 2012
9:35 pm

Shultz – don’t you feel sorry for trolls like 5150 UOAD?

That countdown today was great, keep them coming in more frequency…

Heath

January 24th, 2012
9:35 pm

Djurisic Park is frightening in the dark.