J.J. Frazier is down to three remaining games scheduled in Stegeman Coliseum.
Yet Saturday’s 6 p.m. game will be just the second time during the senior guard’s college career that the Bulldogs have had a shot at Kentucky on the Bulldogs’ homecourt.
“It will definitely be sort of an advantage being home,” sophomore center Derek Ogbeide said. “They’re obviously a great team and can play anywhere as they’ve done in the past.”
The matchup on ESPN is sold out with tickets on Stubhub on Friday afternoon ranging from $55 to $400, but how many of those are going to Big Blue fans?
“Our hope is people haven’t resold tickets,” coach Mark Fox said on 680 AM Friday morning.
“It’s going to be a hard game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday afternoon. “It’s been sold out for three months, four months. I saw the tape against Mississippi State (Tuesday night). It wasn’t a packed stadium. It will be for this game.”
Thanks to the SEC’s unbalanced schedule, six of the last seven games Georgia (15-11, 6-7 SEC) has played against Kentucky have come either in Lexington or at the SEC tournament.
“I’ve been telling John, you need to come to Athens more,” Fox joked Friday afternoon to reporters. “We hadn’t been to Tennessee it felt like forever before last weekend. I wish we could find a solution to that.”
That one home game against Kentucky during that stretch is one of the most memorable in Mark Fox’s eight seasons even in defeat. Sophomore center Derek Ogbeide remembers watching the game in Stegeman as recruits along with current sophomore point guard Turtle Jackson.
“We were loving it, loving the energy, loving the game,” Ogbeide said.
Georgia led No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky by nine in the second half before falling 72-64.
“They’re so dang good that you almost have to play perfect,” Fox said afterwards.
This year’s Kentucky team is good but has been beaten five times. The No. 13 Wildcats (21-5, 11-2) nearly stumbled against Georgia on Jan. 31 in Rupp Arena, but got a Malik Monk shot with 8.7 seconds left to send the game to overtime and won 90-81.
“We’re trying to surpass what we did last time,” Ogbeide said. “Just be better versions of ourselves.”
Point guard De’Aaron Fox was out that game ill, but will make the task of finishing off the Wildcats this time that much tougher.
“His speed certainly puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Mark Fox said.
After dropping three of four games in a stretch, Kentucky has won three in a row, including 83-58 over Tennessee on Tuesday.
Two years ago Georgia was considered relatively safe to make the NCAA tournament before the Kentucky game in Athens. Not this time.
A win over Kentucky—No. 10 in the RPI—would certainly bolster Georgia’s chances. The Bulldogs are 1-6 against top 50 teams, with the victory against No. 47 Tennessee.
“We’re able to compete with pretty much anybody if we come to play and finish plays,” power forward Yante Maten said. Georgia also has a top 50 game against Arkansas and Maten acknowledged it’s “pretty crucial” to get that type of win.
Georgia has lost seven straight to Kentucky since a 73-62 victory on March 7, 2013 against an unranked Wildcats squad.
Monk, who leads the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.9 and in 3s per game at 3.2, torched Georgia for seven 3-pointers in the last matchup.
Kentucky has four players scoring in double figures led by Monk’s 21.7 and Fox’s 15.6, but it was someone else—6-9 Derek Willis—who made four 3-pointers and scored 16 points in the win over the Volunteers. The Wildcats made 8 of 14 3-pointers in less than 12 minutes to open a 31-15 lead and finished 11 of 25 for the game.
Opponents have shot 38.4 percent on 3s in the last five games against Georgia. The Bulldogs 3-point defense for the season is 33.6 percent.
“We need to be more consistent in our ability to defend the 3,” Fox said.
Kentucky leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 48.4.
“They’re shooting the ball very well ,” Fox said, “and you combine that with their speed and their size at the basket and that’s why they’re one of the best offensive teams in America.”
Calipari said he expects the Bulldogs to be “their best,” this time around.
“To be at home on a Saturday with a great team coming in,” Fox said, “hopefully we’ll have a great atmosphere.”