ATHENS - It was a month ago that Georgia, without its best player, went into Rupp Arena and was somehow within five points of powerful Kentucky with a couple minutes to go. That's been mentioned a lot in advance of Tuesday's rematch - at Georgia, which is healthy now - but on Monday both coaches downplayed the first game.
“Looking back on it, I don’t think Kentucky played very well. They didn’t have (Trey) Lyles,” said Georgia's Mark Fox, who then pointed out that Kentucky led the entire game, often in double digits. “We got it close, but that game wasn’t close.”
Lyles, a 6-foot-10 forward, was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday after scoring 18 points in Kentucky's rout of Arkansas.
There were mitigating factors on Georgia’s end too: Marcus Thornton was out, as were Kenny Paul Geno and Juwan Parker. All three are cleared to play now, two of them starting, though Parker just got back and will remain limited.
But what Kentucky head coach John Calipari chose to focus on Monday was Fox.
"I've been doing this for 20-some years. And Mark Fox, every game we've played has been one of those games where he's tried things, done things," Calipari said. "He may come out and play zone. He may come out and play man. They may sag. You don't know what he's going to do. He looked at the tape and he's gonna try to exploit us defensively.
"He is one of those coaches that I know when we walk in we better be ready. Our team better be ready. Our staff better be ready. His team will be ready. he's one of the toughest ones to go against that I've been (against) in 20-some years. So that game (at Rupp) doesn't really matter. He didn't have his best player. This is a totally different game."
No. 1 Kentucky (29-0) is aiming to be the first undefeated team in Division I college basketball since Indiana in 1975-76. Georgia (19-9) is 0-15 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the nation.
“Georgia will have to be the best that Georgia can possibly be,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “But, of course, anything is possible.”
Stegeman's attendance spike
One thing is known: The game will be a sellout, the third of the season at Stegeman Coliseum. Reserved seats have been sold out since December, and student tickets are expected to be gobbled up quickly before the game.
Georgia is averaging 7,316 per home game this year, which is already a 16 percent increase over last year. If you assume a capacity crowd (10,523) on Tuesday, then Georgia's final home attendance will be 7,516, an increase of 18.5 percent over last year.
That projects to be the second-best home attendance average under Mark Fox, behind the 8,250 average from 2010-11, when the Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament. This year also projects to be the third-best home attendance of the post-Jim Harrick era, with the 2007-08 year behind second-best over that span.
(One note about last year's attendance: The final figure of 6,126 was deflated by the two NIT games, which had lower attendance but better atmospheres because of general admission. Georgia's regular-season attendance was 6,430, and compared to that Georgia's attendance is still up by more than 11 percent this season.)