Athens – Here’s an amazing stat, courtesy of Georgia publicist Tim Hix. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 494-457 in the first halves of their 14 SEC games but have been outscored 564-505 in second halves. Being my analytic self, I take this to mean:
Preparation and coaching gets Georgia ahead; the lack of depth gets them behind.
And this, I submit, is why a surprisingly decent team has lost six conference games in which it held a second-half lead. One of those games came Jan. 9 in Rupp Arena, where the then-unassuming Bulldogs led Kentucky with 8:06 remaining.
I mention this because the two meet again here tonight. As was the case nearly two months ago, the Big Blue enters ranked No. 3 in the nation, but Georgia has a much different look. The Bulldogs have proved they can beat quality opponents from the SEC East — Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida — on this court. But Kentucky is clearly a cut above those teams.
The Cats are 7 1/2-point favorites, and they need a victory to stay ahead of Vanderbilt in the SEC East. They’re also coming off a loss in Knoxville, and as a Bluegrass native I can tell you that any UK loss is cause for hand-wringing. (It was after the second — and final — loss of the 1977-1978 season that Joe B. Hall referred to his team as “The Quitting Quintet” and “The Folding Five.”)
Having just taken a tour of the court, I can report that many NBA scouts — including two former Hawks GMs (Billy Knight and Pete Babcock) — are in attendance. There might be six lottery picks playing tonight, only four for Kentucky. Georgia’s Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie are listed in the top 10 of NBAdraft.net’s 2011 mock draft. As is UK’s Eric Bledsoe. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson are expected to be taken in the 2010 lottery.
Speaking of Cousins: The Kentucky center was being razzed by Georgia students during early warmups, and Cousins was moved enough by this to stop shooting and glare into the stands. A couple of weeks ago Cousins was the center, so to speak, of a mini-tempest: Mississippi State students had gotten hold of his cell phone number and were leaving unflattering messages.
So we’ll monitor Mr. Cousins tonight. He has a temper, and he’s easily flustered. He’s also the best center in the nation. And we’ll see if Georgia can manage to go 5-0 against the SEC East at the Stegasaurus after going 0-5 on the road. And I ask you, not for the first time and I’m hoping not for the last, to join me. And I thank you, as always, in advance.