ATHENS — For most of the season, head coach Dennis Felton has been careful not to shatter the delicate confidence of his young team. With each loss, he has found something to build on. With each criticism, there was a compliment.
Sunday, however, there were no silver linings.
Kentucky dominated Georgia from the outset, led by as many as 28 points down the stretch and handed the Bulldogs their fifth straight loss by a 68-45 margin.
“We just did not compete with the kind of toughness that’s required,” Felton said. “We were very, very soft. It was a soft effort, and that’s the story line of this game.”
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Felton got no argument from his players.
The Bulldogs were out of it from the tip. They scored just four points in the first nine minutes of play, and Kentucky held a 19-point lead at the half behind a 15-point first half from Norcross native Jodie Meeks.
“It was definitely a lack of effort and just heart,” said senior Terrance Woodbury, who shot 4-of-14 from the field, scoring a team-high eight points. “From the tip, we didn’t come out with the energy we needed to come out with, and Kentucky being as good a team as they are, they took that and ran with it. We dug ourselves a hole and never got a chance or gave a chance to ourselves to get back in the game.”
Georgia’s offense was brutal in the first half, shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, and things didn’t improve much down the stretch.
Until freshman Dustin Ware hit consecutive 3s in the game’s final four minutes, the Bulldogs were 1-of-13 from behind the arc and were just 4-of-11 from the free-throw line in the game.
It was the second straight game in which Georgia’s offense failed to score 50 points after dropping a 50-40 decision on the road to Vanderbilt last week. Saturday’s loss was the worst regular-season home defeat for the Bulldogs in 14 years.
“We need some shots to start falling,” Woodbury said. “Excluding this game and the last game against Vanderbilt, we haven’t really played that bad offensively. We’re capable of knocking shots down, but (Sunday) it just wasn’t falling for anybody.”
While the Georgia offense struggled, Kentucky had little trouble finding the basket.
The Wildcats shot 52 percent from the field in the first half behind a stellar start from Meeks, who scored a school-record 54 points in his last game against Tennessee. For the season, Meeks is the SEC’s leading scorer at 26 points per game.
After hitting a 3 on his first shot of the second half, however, Meeks was relatively quiet, scoring just four more points on 2-of-6 shooting the rest of the way.
“I’d rather him score 54 and we win the game,” said senior Corey Butler, who defended Meeks through most of the game. “He still had a tremendous shooting night.”
Meeks led all scorers, but Kentucky got 15 points from Patrick Patterson and 13 from Perry Stevenson to add to the barrage.
Freshman Trey Thompkins struggled for the second straight game for Georgia, managing just five points in 22 minutes and was stopped in the paint repeatedly.
Kentucky had 11 blocks in the game and outscored Georgia 34-24 in the paint.
Thompkins said he had trouble adjusting to Kentucky’s double teams, but the struggles in the post were as much about the team’s mental approach as its execution.
While Felton has worked to keep the players’ confidence high despite the losing streak, the positive message isn’t getting through, and Thompkins said it’s time for his team to get mad.
“(Sunday) was just a lack of execution and a lack of heart in the first half,” Thompkins said. “Everybody has to take it personally. We’ve got some guys not buying into the system.”