A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keith Taylor: Fox, Cats get tough down the stretch to overcome gritty Bulldogs

ATHENS — Georgia threw its best punch at Kentucky, but the Wildcats fought back.

Kentucky countered J.J, Frazier’s career-high performance with some clutch plays down the stretch and escaped with an exciting 82-77 triumph over the Bulldogs to complete a regular-season sweep Saturday night.

De’Aaron Fox goes up for a shot in Kentucky’s 82-77 win over Georgia Saturday night in Athens (Keith Taylor Photo)

Although the Wildcats (22-5, 12-2 Southeastern Conference) defeated the Bulldogs for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings between the two teams, they haven’t been easy and the latest dogfight was equally as difficult for Kentucky.

“We were lucky to get out alive, literally lucky to win the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We rebounded the ball well, we did some good things.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 82, Georgia 77

Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox, who missed the first outing between the two teams — a 90-81 overtime victory by the Wildcats on Jan. 31 at Rupp Arena — made six free throws in the final minute to help seal the deal.

Two misses and a rowdy atmosphere didn’t deter Fox when the Wildcats needed him the most. From that point on, Fox zoomed in on the rim while at the charity stripe.

“I (wasn’t) listening to the crowd,” Fox said. “All it is was me and the goal.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

The finish by Fox overshadowed Frazier’s 36-point effort that came to a complete halt down the stretch. Out of options on defense, Calipari decided to double-team Frazier in the final two minutes to cool off the hot-shooting guard. The scheme worked to perfection as the Bulldogs scored just two points in the final 44 seconds.

“J.J. was ridiculous and controlled the whole game,” Calipari said. “We had to trap him at the end just to make somebody else try to beat us. I had no choice because of what was going on. We just started sending people at him.”

While Frazier was feeling the pressure at crunch time, Fox was more at ease and knew it was time to make the final minute matter.

“I had to do something,” Fox said. “I just made plays in big moments. I just want to make people know I can step up in the big moments and today was huge.”

Along with his point guard’s ability to make big plays late, Calipari liked the way the Wildcats survived another road test in the conference and didn’t get rattled despite a couple of tense moments in the second half.

“I loved it,” Calipari said of his team’s close call against the Bulldogs. “I loved it. We made free throws. We attacked. We didn’t look for easy plays. Every play was something at the rim, which was something we were begging the whole game, but the game got rough and these kids, they start fading away and shooting jumpers and going at a speed they know they can’t beat a mean so they have to do something different.”

In addition to overcoming Frazier, the Wildcats held their composure after Isaiah Briscoe fouled out late in the second half and used some valuable minutes from seniors Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder to offset the team’s sub-par outing on the perimeter.

“Dom was great and so was Mychal,” Calipari said. “Mychal’s playing as well as he’s ever played in a Kentucky uniform right now. And Dom is playing well. Dom has saved us. He’s saved us for a couple games now.”

Like his coach, Fox liked the way the Cats overcame the odds in survival mode and shut down Frazier in the final minutes.

“We can win on other ways,” Fox said. “Even though they had J.J. (Frazier) , one person is not going to beat us. We just had to lock down.”

Despite all of his team’s shortcomings against the Bulldogs and Frazier’s career night, Calipari was happy to leave Athens still in a first-place tie with Florida in the conference race going into the final two weeks of the regular-season.

“We go on the road and win a road game in our league (and) I’m ecstatic,” Calipari said. “I’d rather learn from a close win than a loss. So I’m going to go watch the tape and we’ll try to fix some stuff. We play Tuesday. We have a very quick turn.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Missouri, 9 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

Related Posts

Leave a Comment