LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Ashton Hagans doesn’t think much will change when Kentucky takes on Georgia for the second time this season Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
“It was good to be back at home, but now we’re back in Lexington playing them,” said Hagans, a former Georgia Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year winner. “It’s the same game plan. We just go out there and play our game, stick together and try to get the win.”
The Wildcats (13-4, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) used a big second-half comeback to defeat the Bulldogs 78-69 earlier this month in Athens. Georgia has lost three of its first four conference games, including a 91-59 loss at Mississippi State last weekend. Kentucky ranked No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press Top-25 poll, has won 10 straight over the Bulldogs.
Like Hagans, Kentucky assistant coach Tony Barbee isn’t expecting anything different from Tom Crean’s squad, which will rely on freshman sensation Anthony Edwards.
“They’re no different when you watch them play,” Barbee said. “They’re doing some different things on defense, they’re doing some different things on offense, but obviously with (Anthony) Edwards on the floor, he makes them different because they’ve got a guy who’s capable for 40 at any moment, so you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to him, but then they’re dangerous in other places.”
Barbee said Edwards, who leads Georgia in scoring with 19.1 points per game, has the ability to make “hard shots look really easy” and creates issues for opposing defenses.
“Obviously, we’ve had a bunch of those guys over the years here that, they’re special players for that reason — they make the game look easy and the game becomes easy for him,” Barbee said. “They’re doing a lot of stuff with Edwards to get him in the post because he is such a physical, strong, athletic guard who can create a lot of mismatches on that block. And he’s a good passer. He’s one of those guys who demands a lot of attention when you prepare to play them.”
Since conference play began, Kentucky has been involved in close games. Four of the team’s five contests have been determined by nine points, while the past two games — a loss at South Carolina and a win over Arkansas — were by a combined margin of 10 points.
Barbee said the close games are a “good thing because this is a competitive sport.”
“You’re fortunate when you can blow somebody out, but that’s not going to happen at the level that we’re playing at in this conference,” he said. “One of the best in the country, if not the best. You’re going to have games that go down to the wire and then, in the season when there’s a lot of parity all across the country and there’s not a lot of separation from what might be the top and the bottom, you’re going to have a lot of close games.
“It’s good that we’re getting this experience, and we got quite a bit of it in the nonconference schedule. We’ve learned and we’ve grown from it. Our young guys are a little more comfortable in those situations where it is a nip-and-tuck game at this level.”
That competitive spirit, Barbee says, comes from a simple “will to win.”
“We’ve got a group that hates to lose, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to win every game,” Barbee said. “But these guys are going to battle, scrap, and fight. And if you lose a game, it’s only because we ran out of time, not because we gave up or stopped trying. That makes a special group when you’ve got talented guys like we do that care about winning and losing.”
It all starts with Hagans.
“My parents, they always were fighters,” he said. “I guess that’s how I’m riding.”
Gametracker: Georgia at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.