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Kentucky beats Georgia to reach SEC semifinals

By Darrell Bird, The Sports Xchange
Kentucky beats Georgia to reach SEC semifinals
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari looks to the referee after getting a bench warning in the first half against the Missouri Tigers at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri on February 21, 2017. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- No. 8 Kentucky moved into the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament with a 71-60 victory over Georgia on Friday at Bridgestone Arena.

The Wildcats will face the South Carolina-Alabama winner at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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Top-seeded Kentucky (27-5) is in search of its 30th conference tourney title.

Despite its offensive firepower -- Kentucky is the fifth-highest scoring team in the nation -- the Wildcats won Friday's game with its defense. In building a 47-30 lead midway through the second half, Kentucky limited Georgia (19-14) to just one second-half field goal. The Bulldogs were shooting 27 percent with 11 turnovers at that point.

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For the game, Kentucky held Georgia to 33.3 percent shooting and forced the Bulldogs into 13 turnovers.

"It was the defense, the fight that won the game for us," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "Postseason is about being able to make it hard for the other team. It's how hard can we make it on the other team to score. You know, we were pretty locked in."

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Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe paced Kentucky with 20 points and six rebounds. Freshman Bam Adebayo added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard De'Aaron Fox had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

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"These guys know in the foxhole, dude is coming out fighting, he ain't running," Calipari said of Briscoe. "We're in this foxhole together. I know one guy is fighting, and it's him."

Kentucky's SEC tournament opener was a day to forget for Malik Monk, the Associated Press SEC Player of the Year and SEC Newcomer of the Year. After leading the league in scoring at 21.2 points per game, Monk scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting Friday.

Kentucky shot 38 percent, including 33 percent from 3-point range.

Senior guard J.J. Frazier paced Georgia with 15 points. Junior forward Yante Maten added 12.

"We made a couple defensive errors in the beginning of the game, which put us in position where we had to play from behind the entire night and just hard to play uphill in this situation," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "But you have to credit Kentucky's defense. They got a terrific team and their defense was outstanding on us and give them credit for the win."

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After leading 32-25 at halftime, Kentucky scored the first six points of the second half to grab a 38-25 lead. It grew to 47-30 with 12:05 left to go as Kentucky outscored Georgia 15-5 to open the half. The Bulldogs had one field goal in the first eight minutes.

Kentucky's largest lead was 18 points, 50-32, with 10 minutes to go. Georgia never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

Kentucky raced out to a 10-2 lead before a Bridgestone Arena crowd that was mostly Kentucky fans. Fox had five points on a 3-pointer and a drive. Derek Willis added a 3-pointer and Adebayo slammed home a lob as the Wildcats opened 4 for 5. Georgia started 1 for 7 with three turnovers five minutes into the game.

Kentucky grabbed its first double-digit lead at 22-12 with just over seven minutes to play in the first half. It quickly grew to 13, at 25-12, on a 3-pointer by Mychal Mulder. At that point, Georgia had missed 16 of its first 20 shots to go with seven turnovers.

Kentucky saw its 13-point lead trimmed to seven points, 32-25, at halftime as all three of the Wildcats' all-SEC performers -- Fox, Monk and Adebayo -- were sidelined by two fouls.

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Kentucky shot 36.4 percent in the first half, led by Fox and Briscoe with eight points each. Adebayo had eight rebounds. Georgia shot 30 percent. Frazier was tops with six points, Maten added five.

Friday's game marked the third meeting between Kentucky and Georgia. Kentucky won both games, 90-81 in overtime on Jan. 31 in Lexington and 82-77 on Feb. 18 in Athens.

NOTES: Kentucky-Georgia meetings bring out the best in some players. Kentucky G Malik Monk scored 37 points in the Wildcats' win in Lexington, but he scored just two Friday. Georgia G J.J. Frazier had 36 points in the Bulldogs' loss in Athens, Ga. ... John Calipari is the first coach in Division I history to win five regular-season conference championships at three different schools -- Kentucky, Memphis and UMass.

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