A spot in the SEC Championship was up for grabs for Kentucky as took on Georgia in the Semifinal Round.
It almost seemed like a foregone conclusion UK would beat a Bulldogs team without an RPI top-50 win this season, not to mention how often the Cats make it to the title game. In fact, Cal's Cats have made the SEC Championship game in all but one year in Lexington while taking home the title three times.
But Georgia had other things in mind, like making it to the NCAA Tournament, something they weren't doing without a win over a team like Kentucky. The Dawgs came out guns blazing and took it to the Cats, who didn't match the intensity early on, but battled back to keep the game close enough they could make a late run and pull away for a 93-80 win.
This was easily one of the most thrilling games UK has been in this year, and it appeared at several points that the Dawgs would be too much. While you'd like to see UK dominate this kind of game, it was good to see them pushed to the limit and continue to fight back. That will be frequent throughout the NCAA Tournament, so having that experience at least one more time before the Big Dance is always a good thing.
Here's a look at our takeaways from the game.
The Cats got off a terrible start in this game as they looked very sloppy and lacking energy. On the other side, Georgia was confident and taking it to Kentucky and not backing down from the Cats after getting embarrassed in Rupp in the first matchup.
Georgia jumped out to a 15-5 lead at the 15:27 mark of the first half, and that was enough to keep them ahead most of first half even after UK found more offensive rhythm.
But the sluggish start was all UK needed to give Georgia the confidence they could win this game and pull off the big upset. The game became a shootout from there on out as UK's defense struggled mightily in the first half. When you've got a underdog Georgia and a powerhouse like Kentucky, it's up to the better team to impose their will early and crush the underdog's confidence.
That's exactly what UK did to Georgia in their first matchup while dominating the whole game. That didn't happen this time, and a big reason why was their sluggish start that led to a dogfight of a game.
Georgia Couldn't Miss
This was one of those games where Georgia could have thrown anything up and it seemingly went it. The Dawgs made tough contested shot again and again, whether it was long hook shots in the post or 27-foot three-pointers. They just couldn't miss, even when Kentucky defended them well.
Even a UK fans had to be amazed at how locked-in the Dawgs were offensively as they had more points in the first half (49) than they did the entire game in Rupp Arena (48). That was also the most points Georgia has scored in a half this season.
Reserve guard William 'Turtle' Jackson came into this game averaging 1.1 ppg, but recorded a career-high nine points while knocking down 3-of-4 three-pointers.
Speaking of, Georgia hit eight of their first 16 three-point attempts as they were red-hot from deep. While UK didn't do several things well, like allowing too many offensive boards, this was simply a game where the Dawgs would have beaten a lot of teams in college basketball. Teams just don't shoot like that, let alone have guys averaging 1.1 points go off for double-digit games.
It was just one of those games for the Dawgs, but Kentucky clamped down and got just enough stops down the stretch to pull off the win. The Cats really locked down the perimeter late and forced Georgia to miss their final three attempts from deep. UK was so good defensively late that the Dawgs attempted only three three-pointers over the final 10 minutes.
Murray Hot Early
While the Cats got off to a sluggish start, Jamal Murray carried the offensive load early as he scored 10 of UK's first 18 points and finished the first half with 19.
That included a made three-pointer to break Tony Delk's record of consecutive games with a three-ball.
Jamal passes Tony Delk's record with 33 straight games with a three. https://t.co/pyfn3sp3yc— Big Blue Nation (@BigBlue9ation) March 12, 2016
Murray's deadly presence on the perimeter is also opening up more offense for him inside the arc, including a nasty and-one dunk:
Amazingly, Murray would score 26 points while shooting just 3-of-7 from deep, but his final one really helped put the game out of reach for the Dawgs.
The fact he could score almost 30 points without making more threes shows how balanced of an offensive game Murray has developed.
Then Ulis Caught Fire
Murray did enough offensively to keep the Cats afloat until Tyler Ulis began catching first as those two wolud combine for 31 of UK's 44 first-half points. Ulis notched 12 points and four assists in the first half, including some tough layups with contact:
Ulis made several big shots when it appeared the Bulldogs would take commanding leads and keep the game within striking distance at the break. He finished the game with 25 points and made big shot after big shot throughout the game to push his team to victory, including a late dagger three:
This was a really fun game since Kentucky won, and it was exactly the kind of game (with a little less scoring) that UK will face many times if they make a deep NCAA Tournament run.