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Kentucky opened up the 2010 SEC season with what most people presumed would be an easy win. Unfortunately Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs did not get the memo and gave the Cats their second straight tough physical battle. The young Wildcats got a good taste of what life in conference play will be like and were fortunate to do so while improving to 16-0 on the season.
The Cats came out of the gate playing well, building an 11-point lead early in the first half. Spurned on by poor Kentucky shooting and DeMarcus Cousin’s second foul and subsequent trip to the bench, the Bulldogs were able to go on a 21-5 run and took a lead that they would not relinquish in the first half.
In the second half both teams fought to gain an advantage, but neither team was able to put much distance between themselves with nine ties and twelve lead changes in the game. Kentucky was able to take the lead for good with an 11-3 run and hung on down the stretch for the win 76-68.
The Wildcats again found themselves in an absolute slugfest with Georgia and seemed to struggle at times with their size and strength. The Bulldogs were able to challenge every inside shot and managed five blocks for the contest. DeMarcus Cousins summed it up best. "The SEC is tough. This was my first conference game. Everybody is strong. Just as strong as you are." The team, especially the freshman, will need to adjust to the physicality if the Cats want to win the SEC Championship.
Kentucky once again struggled from long distance only making 2-14 threes for the second game in a row. This is a bit surprising, as the team had shot extremely well for most of the early season. What is most concerning is that for the most part the team has been missing open shots. The Cats have seen primarily zone defense for all of the last two games and will continue that trend Tuesday night when they face Florida, who played a lot of zone against Vanderbilt on Saturday. The team must figure out a way to penetrate the zone and get the ball inside for easier baskets.
In a recurring theme of late, Cousins once again was the best player on the court. He was able to score inside while being tackled by three players or by making free throws when the officials actually called a foul. Cousins also displayed great defensive intensity and made huge free throws in the closing minutes of the game. Unfortunately, he again was in early foul trouble, playing only 25 minutes in the game. The Cats need to have him on the floor as he continues to prove how important he is to the success of this team.
DeAndre Liggins played extremely well, making the most of his playing time. Liggins played great defense once again, scored a couple of baskets, and seems to be earning the respect of the coach and likely playing time as well. Calipari stated after the game, “DeAndre was probably the difference in the game. If I had to play pother people we probably wouldn't have enough to win. He tied up a ball for a jump ball and made that layup when we were dying. He did some really good things, I was proud of him too, really proud of him."
Next up for the Cats is a trip to Gainesville to take on those rowdy reptiles and that annoying Gator Chomp. This is always a difficult place to play and it will be interesting to see how the players react to their first SEC road test. The Gators can’t match the Cats size on the interior and will likely play a lot of zone. Again, the ability to hit at least some of their outside shots will be huge.