The last coach to beat Kentucky on the Wildcats’ home court said this week that distinction was news to him.
“Was it the last loss they had at home?” asked Pete Herrmann, who just completed his second season at Division II Young Harris College in North Georgia and was Georgia’s interim coach in 2009 after Dennis Felton was fired in January. “I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that they had been undefeated since then.”
Kentucky hasn’t lost in Lexington since that 90-85 Bulldogs win in Rupp Arena on March 4, 2009, on a Senior Night that came near the end of Billy Gillispie’s two-year run as Wildcats coach.
The top-ranked Wildcats own the nation’s longest home-court winning streak of 51 games — 50 in Rupp Arena and the other game at Memorial Coliseum — heading into another Senior Night tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
That Kentucky team three years ago went 8-8 in the SEC and missed out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. This Kentucky team is 28-1 overall and 14-0 in the SEC under third-year coach John Calipari.
That Georgia team in 2009 brought a 2-12 SEC record to Lexington. This year’s team is 4-10 in the league.
“I’ve just been trying to tell the guys ‘Yeah, it can be done,’ ” said Bulldogs senior guard Dustin Ware, who is the only current Georgia player remaining who played in that game. “Obviously, it’s a different team, different year, different players on both sides, but the one thing that remains the same is that winning in there is like no other feeling ever. It’s a great crowd, a great arena to play in there.”
Georgia finished 12-20, 3-13 in the SEC in 2009. Herrmann went 3-9 as interim coach.
“I just remember being very, very proud of our team at Georgia going into Rupp and winning,” Herrmann said. “I felt all through that stretch that the players gave an awful lot of themselves knowing that there was going to be a coaching change.”
Herrmann said the gameplan going in against Kentucky was negating its ability to block shots.
“I can remember saying before the game in the days preceding it to Terrance Woodberry, ‘You need to have a big game, you need to have 30 points in this game’ ” Herrmann said. “Of course, his face lit up and he was all excited. I said, ‘You’re not going to do it the way you think you’re going to do it. We’re going to get numbers and we’re going to run the ball and drive the ball and try to stay away from the shot blockers.’”
Woodberry finished with those 30 points.
Georgia probably won’t sneak up on Kentucky tonight after the Bulldogs upset then-No. 12 Florida in Athens on Saturday 76-62.
Bulldogs coach Mark Fox called it a “daunting task” to play the Wildcats on their Senior Day.
The Wildcats are two victories away from becoming the third SEC team since 1956 to go undefeated in conference play. The others were the 1996 and 2003 Kentucky squads.
The Wildcats beat Georgia 57-44 on Jan. 24 after they moved into the No. 1 spot, but Georgia players are looking forward to getting another shot.
“Big games like this, you’re excited for them,” senior guard Gerald Robinson said. “Especially going to a storied place like Rupp Arena to be able to play basketball there.”
“They’re better in probably every way,” Fox said. “Offensively, they appear to be playing extremely well together. Defensively, they were dynamite before. … When you look at Kentucky, you have a hard time finding any weakness.”
Calipari said Georgia is more confident now than the first time the Wildcats went up against them.
“(They are) playing a lot different than they did at the beginning of the year — a lot more pick and rolls, a lot more spacing of the court,” he said.
Georgia has already beaten a ranked team on the road — then-No. 20 Mississippi State on Feb. 11 — but the Bulldogs have lost their last two road games at South Carolina and LSU.
Kentucky has already wrapped up the outright SEC title.
“I’ll be rooting like crazy for Mark’s team,” Herrmann said.
Georgia at No. 1 Kentucky
WHEN/WHERE: 9 p.m. today/Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
TV/RADIO: ESPN/AM 960-The Ref.
RECORDS: Georgia (13-15, 4-10 SEC); Kentucky (28-1, 14-0 SEC),
PROBABLE STARTERS: Georgia — G Gerald Robinson (Sr., 6-1, 180, 14.3 ppg, 3.8 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Fr., 6-5, 200, 13.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Nemanja Djurisic (Fr., 6-8, 230, 7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); F Marcus Thornton (So., 6-7, 235, 3.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F/C Donte’ Williams (So., 6-9, 220, 7.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Kentucky — G Darius Miller (Sr., 6-8, 235, 9.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G Marquis Teague (Fr., 6-2, 189, 9.1 ppg, 5.0 apg); F Terrence Jones (So., 6-9, 252, 13.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Fr., 6-7, 232, 10.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg); F Anthony Davis (Fr., 6-10, 220, 16.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg).
*Senior forward Eloy Vargas (0.5 pgg, 0.5 rpg) will start on Senior Night.
SERIES: Kentucky leads 114-25.
LAST MEETING: The Wildcats won in Athens on Jan. 24 57-44. Miller scored a game-high 19 points and made four 3-pointers. Georgia shot 35 percent from the field, 28 percent from 3-point range. Ware led Georgia with 12 points.
SEASON AT A GLANCE: Georgia picked up its second win against a top-20 team this season on Saturday with an 76-62 upset of then-No. 12 Florida in Athens. Georgia shot 53 percent, a season-high in a conference game. Kentucky has won 20 straight games since a 73-72 loss at Indiana on Dec. 10. The Wildcats are shooting 49.2 percent in SEC games. Anthony Davis had a career-high 28 points on 10 of 11 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and five blocks in an 83-47 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
NOTEWORTHY: Georgia is 0-12 all-time against No. 1 teams. … This is Senior Night for Kentucky, which means Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas will start. Georgia completes its SEC road schedule. The Bulldogs are 1-6 in conference games away from Athens, winning at then-No. 20 Mississippi State. … Georgia’s Donte’ Williams is seventh in the SEC in blocks. … Kentucky leads the nation in field-goal-percentage defense (36.5), blocked shots per game (9.1) and scoring margin (19.0) … Davis is shooting 65.8 percent from the field — second in the nation — and blocking 4.8 shots per game — tops in the nation. Davis owns the SEC freshman record for blocks in a season with 138 … Kentucky is 68-2 at home as the nation’s No. 1 team all-time.