If any normal team were to start three freshmen and two sophomores, conference road games would surely be a daunting prospect. Fortunately for Coach John Calipari, his newly minted No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 SEC) are anything but normal. The supremely talented group went into Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday to face the Georgia Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5 SEC) and came away with an easy 57-44 victory.
Georgia kept it close at the beginning, managing to only be down one with 6:40 left in the first half, but Kentucky pulled away from there and the game was never in doubt.
Several players contributed to the effort, as has become the trademark of this Kentucky team, but Darius Miller led the way with 19 points off the bench, including 4 of 4 from beyond the arc. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tallied a double-double, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
As easy as this win was, it never felt like the Wildcats were dominating. This was their lowest scoring output of the season and they played the second half in unimposing fashion, outscoring the Bulldogs only 19-18.
To be fair, it was clear Georgia wasn’t going to make any kind of run, but that speaks more to the tough season Coach Mark Fox’s squad is having. They just don’t have the firepower, especially after losing former stars Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Both are now buried on the end of the Los Angeles Clipper bench while Georgia shoots the second lowest FG% of any team in a power conference.
Despite Kentucky’s ho-hum offensive night, not enough can be said about their defense. The anchor is freshman Anthony Davis, and let me tell you: he is the real deal. Coming into the game, he led the nation with 4.7 blocks per game. Tonight he added five more. Get ready for this eye-popping stat though. Davis has 98 blocks on the season, which is more than Duke, Ohio State and Wisconsin have on their entire teams.
Davis’ mere presence is enough to alter shots. It seemed like Georgia got tentative about going inside, settling often for three point shots. The strategy didn’t pay off, however, as they only converted 5 of the 18 attempts.
The one strange thing about Calipari’s game plan tonight was Davis’ role on offense. The likely #1 overall pick in next June’s NBA draft only had two field goal attempts tonight. Why is this kid not getting the ball more? It was perplexing to watch.
Obviously, Kentucky is the team to beat in the SEC, and arguably in the entire country. Vanderbilt is keeping pace in the SEC standings at 5-1, and they have two games left against the Wildcats, but they can probably only hope for a split because this team is just so talented.
That being said, I would not pick Kentucky to cut down the nets in April. It’s just too risky a choice given their youth. The inexperience seems to be less of an issue this year than with any of Coach Cal’s recent teams, but to paraphrase Brad Nessler during tonight’s broadcast, every time Kentucky comes to town, it’s like the Super Bowl for the other team. Combine the intensity of the Super Bowl with the usual Madness of March, and I see a major upset in the Kentucky Wildcats’ future.
By David Schuman