Saturday, February 16, 2002

Struggling UGa. braces for Cats

Hayes, Williams form Bulldogs' one-two punch

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — J.P. Blevins was injured and didn't play the last time Kentucky met Georgia.

        It will be a long time, however, before Blevins forgets the performance of Georgia's Jarvis Hayes.

        Hayes made 12-of-18 shots and scored a career-best 30 points as the Bulldogs beat the Wildcats 88-84 at Rupp Arena last month, winning in Lexington for only the third time in school history.

        “There were hands in his face, but he was just rising up over people's hands and knocking down every shot,” Blevins said. “I couldn't believe he was making those kinds of shots.”

        “We knew he was a great player coming in, so I wouldn't say he was a surprise to us. But some of the shots he was hitting were certainly a surprise to me.”

        The 10th-ranked Wildcats (17-6, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) will have to do a much better job defending the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Hayes today in the rematch if they hope to emerge from Athens with a victory and keep pace with Florida in the SEC's Eastern Division race.

        Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said tightening the reins on Hayes and Ezra Williams, who scored 20 in Georgia's road triumph, will be critical but will not guarantee a victory.

        “We saw (Hayes) play on film, but until you see him up close ... he really whipped us up close,” he said. “You've got to be able to contain both of those guys. But they've got a lot of other weapons that can beat you if you don't play a full 40 minutes.”

        Georgia coach Jim Harrick would love to see his squad play a complete game as well.

        The 21st-ranked Bulldogs (18-7, 17-5) are 5-5 since beating Kentucky and have lost four of their last six games, including an 85-70 home loss to Florida on Tuesday.

        “We're not even a mere shadow of the team we had early in the year,” Harrick said. “I don't know if we can get back the mental confidence we had when we played the first three games of the conference season.”

        Since the victory over Kentucky, two players were suspended in the wake of an alleged rape, one was suspended after a fight during a game against Auburn and, most recently, Williams' brother was shot and killed last weekend.

        The tragedy obviously weighed heavily on Williams' mind Tuesday as he made only 3-of-14 shots against Florida. Harrick and the rest of his coaching staff decided to accompany Williams to his brother's funeral on Thursday.

        “It's important that we all get together and support him,” Harrick said. “You don't know how long it will take him to refocus. Maybe not the rest of the season. Nobody knows that. I certainly don't.”

        “Maybe Ezra won't snap out of it. Without him, we're certainly not nearly as good as we should be and could be.”

        Hayes leads the team in scoring at 18 points per game, followed closely by Williams' 17.2 points.

        The team's other double-figure scorer, forward Chris Daniels (12.1 points), will miss the first half of today's game after a “flagrant, unsportsmanlike act” during the first half of the Bulldogs' 75-72 loss at Auburn.

        SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer announced Daniels' suspension Friday afternoon.

        Harrick said a victory over Kentucky could be just the tonic needed to cure what has been ailing his struggling team.

        “Beating Kentucky gives you so much confidence it's unbelievable,” he said. “Confidence is a huge factor in everything young people do. You can play anybody in the whole world, but when you beat Kentucky it is very special.”

        Smith said he was encouraged by the way his team pulled together and beat Vanderbilt 67-59 Wednesday night despite one of its worst shooting performances of the season.

        “We're getting ready for a big stretch here these last few regular-season games,” he said. “We've got to really concentrate, be more consistent in our play at both ends of the court and pick up our intensity.”

        “I think our guys are really starting to focus and understand the magnitude of where we are and what we still have to do in order to win the SEC regular-season title. That's been our vision from the beginning.”


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