Cats block Georgia to 80-68 road victory [SLIDESHOW]


in the second half of UK’s 80-68 win over Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA on Wednesday, March 3, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

ATHENS, Ga. – A tale of two halves for the Cats was enough to give UK at least a share of their 44th Southeastern Conference regular season crown, and their first since 2005.

A 12-0 run to begin the second half was enough to give UK a comfortable 16-point lead, and a season-high 14 blocked shots stifled the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs (13-15, 5-10 SEC). entered the game with a 4-0 home record against SEC East opponents, but UK’s defensive presence was enough to top the Bulldogs 80-68.

“We know that our defense is going to take us to the next level, it’s going to take us to the championship if we get there,” UK junior forward Patrick Patterson said. “We know we are a defensive team, that comes first, and defense wins championships. And that’s what we want to be, a defensive team.”

Led by freshman guard John Wall’s game-high 24 points and six assists and Patterson’s 17 points and 10 rebounds, the Cats (28-2, 13-2 SEC) closed the road portion of their regular season with a win.

The Cats opened the game on a 7-2 run before Georgia responded with a 9-0 run of their own to take a four-point lead.

Following a Georgia 10-3 run which gave the Bulldogs a 26-20 lead, UK stormed back on a 6-0 run in a 42-second span to tie it up. The Cats finished the half with a layup by sophomore guard DeAndre Liggins with nine seconds remaining to take a 40-36 lead into the break.

Despite shooting 48.5 percent from the field in the first half, UK led by only four thanks in part to Georgia’s 11 offensive rebounds and 15 second chance points. The Bulldogs got only four second chance points the entire game in their first matchup. Georgia finished with 24 second chance points.

UK freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins didn’t take a single shot in the first half after being called for two fouls early and only playing eight minutes.

The second half was a whole different story for Cousins and the Cats.

Cousins stepped into the passing lane and stole a Georgia pass and took it 75-feet for a layup in traffic to give the Cats a 45-36 lead with 18:47 to play in the second half. Following another fast break led by the big man one minute later, Wall made a three-point play and Bledsoe sank two free throws to stretch the UK lead to 16 before Georgia could find the bottom of the net in the second half.

Cousins finished the game 3-for-3 from the field for six points, four rebounds and six blocks.

After the game Patterson, who had four blocks of his own, talked more about the Cats’ defensive presence in the second half, and their ability to get blocked shots.

“Getting a blocked shot can definitely turn around a game, it definitely fires us up, it definitely may put fear in the opposing team’s eyes because we blocked so many shots they think they have an easy basket but all of a sudden here we come and just swat the shot and get the ball back,” Patterson said.

The Cats stretched the lead to 18 with 7:19 to go in the second half on a Cousins layup. Following 3-point baskets on three consecutive Georgia possessions, the Bulldogs cut the lead to nine points, but Patterson responded with a small right-handed hook shot to put the Cats back up by double digits.

Despite winning a share of their 44th SEC Championship and claiming the top overall seed in next weekend’s SEC Tournament, Calipari said the first time he ever mentioned winning the SEC Championship was the shootaround before Wednesday night’s game. The result, he said, was a crisper shootaround and a win for UK.

Wall said the job isn’t done yet though, and they want to claim the outright title on Sunday afternoon at home against Florida on Senior Day.

“We want to win a championship,” Wall said. “We don’t want to have a tie. Vanderbilt’s a great team and there are a lot of other great teams in the SEC, but we want to win to win it all together, Kentucky doesn’t want to win a share.”