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March 6, 2013

For Cats, a choose-or-lose decision at Georgia

A basketball coach once co-wrote a book called "Success is a Choice," and though it's doubtful that Rick Pitino's guide to business achievement is on rival John Calipari's bookshelf, the basic premise isn't so far from Calipari's philosophy.

"I think our team (can be) whatever they want to be," Calipari said Wednesday. "Where do you want to go with this? How do you want to do this? Whatever you want it to be, it's gonna be."

At present, Calipari's Kentucky team is a bubble club facing a critical week with games Thursday at Georgia and at home Saturday against Florida.

Win both and the Wildcats (20-9, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) likely are in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament. Split and there's work to be done at next week's SEC Tournament. Lose both, and Kentucky might need an SEC tourney title to win a bid.

The variable in Calipari's eyes is desire. Success, as he sees it, is a choice.

"It's like fate is in your hands," freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said. "You practice and you work out to obviously win, but none of that matters if you don't have the mentality to win, if you don't want to hustle around, get 50/50 balls, match the intensity of your man. It just goes out the window. That's what he means by you have the choice to win or lose."

But the Cats have little choice but to win - and win soon - if they'd like to be on an NCAA Tournament bracket come selection Sunday.

And their first chance to show they've chosen success comes Thursday at Georgia (14-15, 8-8 SEC), which is 11-6 at home and coming off a 78-68 win against Tennessee last Saturday, a game that snapped the Volunteers' six-game winning streak.

"The only thing that's on the line tomorrow night is a win and a loss," junior Jon Hood said. "That's the only thing we're worried about, that's the only thing that's on our minds. We don't care about Florida on Saturday. We don't care about the SEC Tournament right now. We don't care about the NCAA, any of that. All we care about is playing our best, come out playing tough, together and doing what it takes to get a win."

What it takes, Calipari said, is a commitment to winning ways.

It's not just about making shots or slowing Georgia scorer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It's about taking care of the ball when play gets physical, about players being mindful of fulfilling their roles.

"Go in the games, the game's going to get rough," Calipari said. "Battle back. If you're supposed to be handling the ball, handle the ball. Go get it. If you're supposed to rebound the ball, guess what? Go rebound."

Kentucky didn't do those things last Saturday. As a result the Hogs looked hungry. The Cats came away humbled.

"During the game you don't feel like you were playing the way everybody was saying we played, but then when you go back on film you can definitely see that (Arkansas) was playing with more intensity, playing tougher," Cauley-Stein said. "They was punking us. You see that in film and you're like you don't want that to ever happen again. You just kind of have to approach it like that."

The Cats are running out of time to change their approach, but Cauley-Stein said it's important they not look at the ticking of their postseason clock. Instead, he said, the Cats have to play a game at a time, focus on the immediate task at hand.

Kentucky managed that two years ago, when its reversed its regular-season fortunes late, got hot down the stretch and rode the momentum of an SEC Tournament win to the 2011 Final Four.

"I believe any team can do that if they come together," said Hood, one of two current Cats who played on that 2011 team. "You see all these Cinderella teams in the tournament that are playing their best at the end of the year. Any team can do it, so why can't we? We just need to come together, play as a team, play tough and we'll be fine."

Calipari still thinks so, too, still has a vision that his team can "write a heckuva story" before the book's closed on this season.

No sooner did the coach say so on Wednesday than he added a caveat: "If they choose to."

It's time to make that choice.

"Where do we want the season to go?" Calipari said. "Well, fight like heck. Fight. Battle. None of the other stuff's going to work. The only thing that's going to work is you go in and want this thing badly."


KENTUCKY AT GEORGIA | THURSDAY | 7 P.M. | ESPN
KENTUCKY (20-9, 11-5 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (122-23 in fourth season at Kentucky; 525-161 in 21st season overall)
Last game: Lost to Arkansas 73-60
Roster | Stats
GEORGIA (14-15, 8-8 SEC)
Coach: Mark Fox (64-61 in fourth season at Georgia; 187-104 in ninth season overall)
Last game: Beat Tennessee 78-68
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Ryan Harrow So. 6-2/170 10.2 2.7
G Julius Mays Sr. 6-2/192 9.7 3.1
G Archie Goodwin Fr. 6-5/198 13.8 4.5
F Willie Cauley-Stein Fr. 7-0/244 8.4 5.9
F Alex Poythress Fr. 6-7/239 11.9 6.1
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Vincent Williams Sr. 6-0/165 4.9 1.6
G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope So. 6-5/205 18.0 6.9
G Sherrard Brantley Sr. 6-2/187 3.4 1.2
F John Florveus Sr. 6-11/240 2.6 3.2
F Donte' Williams Jr. 6-9/225 5.3 4.9
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Stegeman Colisuem (10,523), Athens, Ga.
TV: ESPN (Rece Davis play by play, Bob Knight analyst)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); Sirius 128/XM 199.
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 3

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 115-25
At Athens: Kentucky leads 40-16
Coaches' records: Calipari 5-1 vs. Georgia; Fox 1-5 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 79, Georgia 49, March 1, 2012, Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats made 15 three-pointers, including six in a row in one second-half stretch, to pummel the Bulldogs in UK's final home game of the season. Darius Miller scored 17 points on his Senior Night. Doron Lamb scored 13 points and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 12 for UK, which led 37-19 at halftime and led by as many as 41 points in the second half. The Cats held Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.

Keys to the Game
1. The Pope Steps…Up: There are few defensive challenges in the SEC more daunting than slowing Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, one of the league's most electric scorers. Caldwell-Pope's 18 points per game average is more than twice what the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer produces, and he's capable of erupting for more. Caldwell-Pope scored 25 points in last Saturday's win against Tennessee, and he's scored at least 18 in nine of Georgia's last 11 games. Last season, Caldwell-Pope shot 39.6 percent from the floor, 30.4 percent from three-point range and 65.4 percent from the foul line. This season, those percentages are up to 44.1, 37.8 and 80.4.

2. The Other Guys: A key to beating the Bulldogs: controlling Georgia's "other" scorers. Georgia is the only SEC team with a single double-digit scorer and is likely to end the season as the first Bulldog team in 50 years with only one player averaging double-digit soring. Having so many interchangeable parts - five players average between four and 7.7 points - is one reason why Georgia has used 12 different starting lineups. In last Saturday's win against Tennessee, guard Charles Mann tied a season high with 18 points, but he has 17 games this season with five or fewer, including four scoreless games.

3. Down the Stretch: If the game is close in the closing minutes, Caldwell-Pope is even more of a threat. In the final five minutes of SEC games, he's scored 43 percent of Georiga's points. That's almost three times as much as any teammate. Caldwell-Pope is shooting 65 percent from the field, 62 percent from the three-point line and and 83 percent from the free-throw line in the final five minutes of SEC games.



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