Bulldogs enter ‘intimidating’ Rupp Arena tied with Wildcats for second in SEC

Nemanja Djurisic still remembers his lone trip to Rupp Arena with Georgia in 2012.

“The last time I played over there, they were the best team in the country and they won the national championship,” the Georgia junior forward said. “They shot a really, really good percentage and it was really hard to play against them, but we’re going to come out ready and see what we can do.”

Georgia was demolished 79-49 two seasons ago, when the Bulldogs finished one spot out of the Southeastern Conference basement and the Wildcats went 16-0 in the league.

Things are a bit different heading into this game.

Georgia center Donte’ Williams said he checked an app on his phone this week to get the latest SEC standings.

It showed the surprising Bulldogs (10-7, 4-1 SEC) and No. 14 Wildcats (14-4, 4-1) tied for second with Ole Miss, a game behind Florida.

“It feels good to know you’re playing well, competing early in SEC play,” Williams said.

Save for a couple of walk-ons, the Wildcats don’t have anybody left from that team that rolled over Georgia two seasons ago. Willie Cauley-Stein is the only Kentucky starter who started in the Bulldogs’ 10-point win in Athens last season.

“You know they’re going to have some great players, they’re going to be very well-spaced, they’re going to really defend you, so there are some similarities that you have to get ready for,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “And they’re very balanced. They have so many guys who can score. It’s one of the great strengths of their team. They’ve got guys who can score from every place.”

No matter who the Wildcats put on the floor, Kentucky is hard to beat at home.

The Wildcats are 79-2 at Rupp in coach John Calipari’s five seasons.

There is always NBA talent on hand.

This team has freshman Julius Randle, named to the 25-player midseason Wooden Award list. He ranks as the No. 5 overall prospect by ESPN’s Chad Ford, who also lists Cauley-Stein at No. 12 and freshman James Young at No. 17.

Djurisic, Williams and Marcus Thornton started for Georgia at Kentucky in 2012.

“It can be intimidating,” Thornton said. “We got a dose at Florida. That will help us tremendously. We’ll be prepared when the time comes.”

Georgia’s two SEC road games couldn’t have been any more different.

The Bulldogs got one of the biggest wins in Fox’s five seasons with an overtime win at Missouri and fell apart in an 18-point loss at Florida. Georgia beat Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina at home.

“They’re playing exactly how they have to play to win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Their guards are scoring, they’re shooting the 3 when they need it, they’re plus-10 rebounds in our league right now. They grind it out. One team gave them trouble and that was Florida, at Florida. If that game were at Georgia, it would probably have been a two point game.”

Point guard Charles Mann said he’s learned from the previous SEC road games this season “to play composed, to lead my team and we’ve got to play hard and smart and hopefully we can get a win.”

Kentucky has averaged 23,506 for its three SEC home games.

“It is definitely a tough place to play,” Williams said. “Always have a sold-out crowd so you’ve kind of got to play mistake free. Can’t turn the ball over, you can’t just mistakes because they’re a good team, plus they’re at home with the home crowd advantage.”

Fox said his players need to learn to “grow up as competitors and learn how to play in an atmosphere like this.”

He’s focused more on the matchups than the surroundings.

“You’ve got to be able to manage the elements outside,” he said, “but I don’t think any of their fans are going to block a shot, but they’re obviously going to change the energy level in the arena. What it comes down to is us being composed enough to manage that and play the right way.”

GEORGIA AT KENTUCKY

When/where: 1:45 p.m. today/Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

TV/radio: SEC-TV/The Ref 960-AM

Records: Georgia is 10-7, 4-1 SEC; No. 14 Kentucky is 14-4, 4-1 SEC;

Probable starters: Georgia — G Charles Mann (So., 6-5, 210, 13.1 ppg, 2.8 apg); G Kenny Gaines (So., 6-3, 195, 12.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Brandon Morris (Jr., 6-7, 215, 9.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg; F Marcus Thornton (RJr., 6-8, 235, 7.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Donte Williams (Sr., 6-9, 225, 5.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Kentucky– G Aaron Henderson (Fr., 6-6, 218, 13.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Andrew Harrison (Fr., 6-6, 215, 11.3 ppg, 3.5 apg); G James Young (Fr., 6-6, 215, 14.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Julius Randle (Fr., 6-9, 250, 16.7 ppg, 10.6 rpg); F Willie Cauley-Stein (So., 7-0, 244, 8.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg.).

Series: Kentucky leads 115-26, including 56-5 in Lexington.

Last meeting: The Bulldogs won 72-65 on March 7, 2013 in Athens. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a game-high 24.

Season at a glance: Kentucky is breaking in a largely new cast again after going 21-12 and failing to reach the NCAA tournament last season. The Wildcats, who began the season preseason No. 1, lack a top 25 RPI win (they lost to Michigan State) but have beaten Louisville and Tennessee. Kentucky rolled over Texas A&M 68-51 at home on Tuesday, its second straight win after losing at Arkansas in overtime Jan. 14. The Bulldogs, 6-6 entering SEC play, continued their hot SEC start with a 97-76 blowout of South Carolina Wednesday night at home. Forward Nemanja Djurisic came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points and Georgia made a season-high 10 3-pointers.

Noteworthy: Kentucky will test Georgia’s improved rebounding in SEC play. The Wildcats rank second in the nation in rebounding margin (11.7) while Georgia is 39th (5.4). … Gaines has scored in double-figures in four of five SEC games and ranks third in the league in free throw percentage at 84.7. … Kentucky has won 20 straight at home. … The Bulldogs are 1-2 against ranked opponents this season. … Randle leads the SEC with 11 double-doubles. He is tops in rebounding at 10.6 and third in field goal percentage at 54.5. … Thornton is fourth in SEC play in rebounding at 8.2. … Cauley-Stein is 14th in the nation in blocked shots with 3.2 per game. … Kentucky sophomore forward Alex Poythress had a season-high 16 points and five rebounds against Texas A&M.

Marc Weiszer: twitter.com/marcweiszer

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