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By LARRY VAUGHT
Not only is Georgia coming off its biggest win of the season, a victory over then No. 12 Florida, but Kentucky coach John Calipari says the Bulldogs have also changed the way they are playing since a January loss to the Wildcats.
â€œThey are playing a lot different than they were at the beginning of the year,â€ said Calipari. â€œThey are way more confident. They are shooting the ball extremely well. They are spacing the court and doing much more pick and roll. They are playing off hand-offs. They are bringing their four man (power forward) and making him like a three (small forward) in pick and pop.â€
Calipari says the way Georgia coach Mark Fox has adjusted his teamâ€™s playing style to best suit his players has impressed him despite Georgiaâ€™s losing record.
â€œThey are playing different and getting results,â€ Calipari said. â€œWinning at Mississippi State and winning against Florida, those are huge. Iâ€ˆknow we are going to face an opponent that is playing well.â€
However, Fox thinks his team might have a bit more difficult challenge. Kentucky has won 51 straight home games, including 50 in a row at Rupp Arena in Calipariâ€™s three seasons, going into Thursdayâ€™s Senior Night game where Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas will both be in the starting lineup for their final home game. Kentucky is also 14-0 in Southeastern Conference play and on a 20-game win streak.
â€œWe get the daunting task of going into Rupp Arena on Senior Day to play a terrific team that I donâ€™t think has lost at home in three years,â€ Fox said. â€œThey are probably better in every way (from the first time the teams played). Iâ€ˆthink offensively they appear to be playing extremely well together. Defensively, they were dynamite before.
â€œThey can beat you so many ways. (Terrence) Jones appears to be playing pretty well. The first game he was not as hot coming in. When you look at Kentucky, it is hard to find any weaknesses and obviously they have a terrific home-court advantage to go with all that.â€
Fox isnâ€™t sure the Bulldogsâ€™ win over Florida Saturday will have any carryover impact at Kentucky.
â€œI donâ€™t think it will do much. I feel that our team has been pretty focused on taking one game at a time and not taking the previous game into the next game. Obviously a win over a great Florida team gives us confidence, but it will not have a lot to do with the outcome on Thursday. We are playing a different team and have to play extremely, extremely well,â€ Fox said.
Georgia made a believer out of Florida coach Billy Donovan with its spirited play against his team and gained even more of his respect.
â€œI think Georgia is a team that continues to improve and play hard and play with good passion and energy,â€ Donovan said. â€œIâ€ˆhave great respect for that. They play very hard and very physical. Thatâ€™s a great tribute to their kids.â€
Senior guard Gerald Robinson leads Georgia in scoring at 14.3 points per game and has 105 assists. However, freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the teamâ€™s most talked about player. Heâ€™s scoring 13.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
â€œHeâ€™s had a very good freshman season. He has not had much chance to rest and come out of games and be coached,â€ Fox said. â€œHe has really been productive for us, but he has also made mistakes on the floor because he is a freshman and is just learning. We felt like he was an impact player, but he has been even better in some ways than we anticipated. In all honesty, he has handled the amount of expectations we had put on him better than I anticipated.â€
â€œHe is a terrific talent and is able to score in bunches because of his skill level and athleticism,â€ South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said.
However, Fox said the Bulldogsâ€™ improvement has been a team issue.
â€œOur focus has been to try and get better and win as many games as we can,â€ Fox said. â€œTheir ability to play the game the right way, play hard, act right and play with class is what we want to do. They are staying the course with the right attitude. But winning on the road in this league is a challenge. We won on the road at Mississippi State in a game we played very well. There have been other games away from home where I felt we did not play nearly as well and this is a game we have to play extremely well just to be in the game.â€