Poor shooting leads to Cats loss in Georgia

By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes

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ATHENS, Ga. — UK will head into its final game of the regular season riding a losing streak. Thursday night saw the Cats fall, 72-62, to the Georgia Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens. Postgame, freshman guard Archie Goodwin was in no mood to mince his words.

“Yes, I’m mad,” Goodwin said. “When we play like we’re supposed to, there’s nobody in the country that can beat us. When we play like this — when we play soft as a team — anybody can beat us.”

On Thursday that “anybody” was the unranked Bulldogs (15-15, 9-8 SEC) who held a five-point advantage through halftime. UK (20-10, 11-6 SEC) used a 7-0 run to get within three points in the second half, but the Cats could not claw themselves all the way back as the Bulldogs held on to claim the victory.

The story of the night was poor shooting from the field for both teams (37.1 percent for the Cats, 36.5 percent for the Bulldogs), but free throws made the final difference.

Georgia was 27-of-34 from the charity stripe, while the Cats took 18 free-throws on the night, of which they made 10.

UK led by as much as six in the first half, with early field goals from Goodwin, freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore forward Kyle Witljer. Then the Bulldogs went on a 15-3 run, four of the points coming on free throws from junior forward Donte Williams.

After a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gave the Bulldogs a 31-26 halftime lead, the Cats surged into the second half with five points from sophomore guard Ryan Harrow.

Again, Georgia held the Cats off by making free throws, as they went 21-of-24 from the line in the second half. A late surge of points from Goodwin was not enough to overcome the Bulldogs’ free throws, and Georgia took the 10-point win.

The Cats had committed more fouls (26) than they had made shots (23). Goodwin, Harrow and freshman forward Alex Poythress all fouled out in the second half, while junior guard Jarrod Polson finished with four fouls.

Cauley-Stein had his second straight double-double, his fourth of the season, with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He was joined in double-digit scoring by Goodwin (20 points), Wiltjer (12 points) and Harrow (11 points).

The victorious Bulldogs were led by Caldwell-Pope, who scored 24 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double.

UK head coach John Calipari has defended his players’ performances all season and  has taken the blame for not having them at top performance level, but the players wouldn’t accept that excuse Thursday.

“It’s completely off Cal,” Cauley-Stein said. “I mean, we’ve got one more regular-season game left. There’s not much you can coach us about.”

That final game for Cauley-Stein and the Cats is a home clash with SEC regular-season champions Florida on Saturday. Tipoff at Rupp Arena is set for noon.