No. 15 Kentucky back on track, awaits Georgia

NCAA Basketball
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After bouncing back with a road win at Arkansas following its late collapse against South Carolina, No. 15 Kentucky will return home for a Southeastern Conference rematch with Georgia on Tuesday.

It is the first of five league foes the Wildcats (13-4, 4-1 SEC) will meet twice in the regular season. They beat the Bulldogs (11-6, 1-3) in Athens 78-69 on Jan. 7, getting strong performances from forward Nick Richards and guard Tyrese Maxey to overcome a 37-31 halftime deficit.

Richards and Maxey each had 17 points and seven rebounds, with 13 of Richards’ points and five of his rebounds coming in the second half. Georgia coach Tom Crean is well aware of the issues Richards presents.

“We don’t have a matchup with Nick Richards,” Crean said. “We didn’t do a great job on a lot of their guys, but Nick Richards changed the game. We know when he plays well. They play well.”

Crean is hoping his Bulldogs can duplicate their first-half performance in the rematch, especially on the boards. The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle in the first half before the Wildcats recovered and had a 41-35 advantage in the game.

“We preach two-handed rebounding, and we lose rebounds because we go up with one hand,” Crean said. “When we’re playing a team that’s so fundamentally sound as they are with the boards, that’s an issue.

“The rebounding got us. We couldn’t deal with the live ball turnovers, but the rebounding got us in the second half.”

Rebounding — or lack of it — was a big issue for Georgia in its last outing, a humbling 91-59 defeat at Mississippi State, which dominated the boards 40-22.

“This comes down to a competitive thing,” Crean said. “I’ve said this before, players play to play, tough people compete to win and win championships. Your toughness is measured, which we talk about all the time. All the time.

“Your toughness is measured in the things you have to do a lot. Which is rebounding, which is transitioning on defense, which is talking on defense. In our case it’s switching a lot. We were extremely quiet and we’re just going to have to continue to work it out.”

As it did against Georgia in the first meeting, Kentucky also had a big second half in its 73-66 win at Arkansas, going on a 17-2 run after coach John Calipari was ejected after picking up his second technical foul with 8:19 left.

Richards, who is averaging 16.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in SEC play, just missed a double-double Saturday with nine rebounds to go along with his 17 points. Forward Keion Brooks Jr. also played a key role down the stretch with 10 points and seven rebounds after assistant coach Kenny Payne challenged him.

“You’re taking a test,” Payne said he told Brooks. “How are you going to do on this test?

“He passed.”

–Field Level Media

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