Fox-led Georgia nearly upsets No. 3 Kentucky
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – This time, DeMarcus Cousins threw his headband – not his elbows – when he got angry.
Good thing. No. 3 Kentucky needed its freshman center – and his elbows – to hold off Georgia.
Cousins scored seven of his 16 points in the final 3 minutes as the Wildcats stayed unbeaten with a gritty 76-68 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
It was redemption of sorts for Cousins, who spent the last week fending off angry Facebook messages from Louisville fans after throwing an elbow at Louisville forward Jared Swopshire early in Kentucky’s 71-62 win over the Cardinals.
Cousins received a technical foul on the play, though the TV announcers said he should have been ejected. He shrugged off the criticism but allowed he has to do better job keeping his volatile emotions in check.
He did against Georgia, staying under control despite spending most of his 25 minutes on the floor wrestling underneath the basket with the handful of Bulldogs charged with stopping him.
“I’m pretty cut up,” Cousins said.
Welcome to life in the Southeastern Conference.
At one point the Bulldogs knocked off Cousins’ trademark white headband while he drove to the basket. Cousins picked it up and threw it to the sideline, but kept his cool.
“I just told him to play through that,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Calipari rewarded Cousins’ newfound maturity with the ball.
The Wildcats fed it to him constantly over the final minutes, and he responded by scoring seven straight points, including the game-clinching lay-up with 36 seconds left.
“He was a beast,” Calipari said.
So was Patrick Patterson, who finished with 17 points. Freshman superstar John Wall also had 17 for the Wildcats, who moved to 16-0 for the first time since winning their first 23 games in 1965-66.
It wasn’t easy. There were 12 lead changes and nine ties as Georgia hung around despite turning it over 26 times against Kentucky’s unrelenting press.
The Bulldogs (8-6, 0-1 SEC) nearly pulled off their second straight upset behind a season-high 20 points from Travis Leslie and 17 points and 13 rebounds from Trey Thompkins.
Georgia knocked off No. 20 Georgia Tech on Tuesday, but couldn’t duplicate the feat against the Wildcats. Kentucky wore the Bulldogs down over the final 6 minutes, limiting them to six points and forcing six turnovers.
“We turned it over too much on the road,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “We had 13 both halves and that’s too many when you’re on the road. We just weren’t complete on all parts of the game.”
Kentucky wasn’t much better. The Wildcats made just 2 of 14 3-point attempts for the second straight game, and Calipari criticized a lack of production from his bench. Kentucky’s reserves had just nine points.
“For us to be one of (the good) teams, our bench is going to have to be deep,” Calipari said. “It wasn’t this game. Hopefully, the next game it will be fine.”
Cousins’ heroics didn’t appear to be necessary early. The Wildcats quickly built an 11-point lead and appeared to be on cruise control in front of a capacity crowd that included movie star Ashley Judd and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Georgia, however, didn’t back down. Borrowing a page from Louisville, the Bulldogs opted to get physical with the Wildcats. Georgia bumped, grabbed and nudged Wall wherever he went, and this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story was mortal for most of his 34 minutes.
Wall made just 5 of 14 shots – including two missed dunks – and was twice whistled for traveling.
The Bulldogs did the same to Cousins, as Albert Jackson, Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price all fouled out trying to keep the Wildcats in check.
“DeMarcus and Patrick are great players, everybody knows that,” Thompkins said. “They have the ability to make you foul them and it just worked to perfection.”
The win was the 62nd straight conference victory for Calipari. The first 61 game while he was helping Memphis run roughshod over the Conference USA.
Things will be considerably more difficult in the SEC.
“(Georgia) never quit playing and that is what happens in this league, and that was at home,” Calipari said. “I can’t imagine how that will be on the road.”
The Wildcats find out on Tuesday when they travel to Florida.