LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It wasn’t until Saturday morning, a few hours before the game, that Georgia head coach Mark Fox found out he wouldn’t have Kenny Gaines, his second-leading scorer. A thigh injury was bothering him too much.
So turn to backup shooting guard Juwan Parker, right? Well no, Parker was also ruled out that morning with a hamstring. So Fox tried some gamesmanship, keeping the news from No. 14 Kentucky until just before game time.
But subterfuge can only go so far. Beating Kentucky, practically an NBA farm team, with Gaines would have been tough. It proved impossible without him, as Georgia suffered a 79-54 loss in front of a typically raucous Rupp Arena crowd.
“They’re our only (shooting) guards. And we need everyone on this team,” said Georgia forward Brandon Morris, who led the team with 15 points. “We need everyone at every position. Everyone pitches in and helps.”
Fox said he thought Friday that Gaines (thigh) and Parker (hamstring) would play, as each managed to practice. But they were worse off Saturday morning and ruled out. That left the team with very little outside shooting -- Gaines is averaging 12 points per game -- and forced it to go to a bigger lineup.
“It crippled us,” Fox said. “It’s that you have to play a power forward on the perimeter. So it’s just everything that you do is disjointed,” Fox said. “And instead of three perimeter players, you have two. You can’t totally adjust your system to play in 36 hours.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari complimented Fox on hiding the information from him until tipoff. And Georgia did manage to keep the game close for a little bit, leading briefly 8-6. But Kentucky pulled away with a 23-5 run.
“This shows you what a great coach (Fox) is. He kept them in the game with that guy not in there,” Calipari said. “He played a lineup he’s never played at Georgia. He had like four centers on the court at one time. They had a chance. It shows you the job he’s doing with his team.”
Indeed, Georgia did manage to climb back within six early in the second half, which forced Calipari to call a timeout.
But ultimately the talent of Kentucky (15-4, 5-1 SEC) was too much. It took advantage of Georgia’s offensive struggles, using its transition game to run away with the win.
The 25-point losing margin was the worst of the season for Georgia (10-8, 4-2).
“Our transition defense wasn’t on point. We weren’t able to come back and stop them from running,” Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic said. “That was the emphasis before the game, to set the defense before they set their offense and try to stop them from getting the easy ones.”
But Kentucky was able to get in transition because of Georgia’s poor offense, especially in the halfcourt. Gaines, and to a lesser extent Parker, could have helped with that. But the problems went deeper:
Point guard Charles Mann had a rough game, turning the ball over five times and going 1-for-9 from the field. Mann tried to create offense by driving to the basket, and he did get fouled a lot but only went 7-for-15 from the line. And too often Mann’s drives to the basket were often fruitless against Kentucky’s lengthy future pros.
Forward Marcus Thornton, integral to the team’s improvement, didn’t score in the first half. He did have 10 points in the second half, along with nine rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
By the time the game got out of hand, Georgia lost two more players. Morris left after taking a hit to his knee. Donte’ Williams left after banging his head on the floor. That allowed Kentucky to really run away with it, after the margin had been in the teens late in the game.
“We kind of played different lineups, and we weren’t able to figure out the best way to score,” Djurisic said. “It’s not an excuse, but we were kind of fighting some adversity with that. We weren’t able to be set and stable on the offensive side.”
The upside for Georgia is that with only one-third of its SEC schedule over, it is now done playing Kentucky and Florida, the SEC’s two best teams.
Three of Georgia’s next four games are at home, and the lone road game is at Auburn. But the road would be harder without Gaines, and Fox said he couldn’t be sure yet whether Gaines can play Wednesday against Vanderbilt.
Two weeks ago, Georgia lost handily at Florida. It responded by winning the next two games. Now it has lost even more handily. Morris said the response should be the same.
“Same policy. That’s one of our things we do. We flush it,” Morris said. “It’s the same thing now, we’re already in the process of flushing this one. We’re here in Kentucky and we’re already thinking about flushing it, and we’ve got Vandy on Wednesday. It helps us a lot, because you’re not hung up and you’re not worrying about that last game, you’re able to come out and perform.”