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March 4, 2009Tradition dictates the Kentucky Pep Band belts out Bon Jovi's 'Livin' on a Prayer' at the final media timeout of the game as usual. Little did they know that's what UK will need the make the postseason at this point.
The Cats fell flat on their face against the worst team in the Southeastern Conference, dropping a 90-85 affair at the hands of a Georgia team that had nothing but pride to play for over the final week.
There's always Tampa.
UK will need to win the SEC Tournament on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico to make an 18th straight NCAA Tournament after dropping their third straight league game for the second time this season.
"When things go well for them they're really good," UK coach Billy Gillispie said of his team. "But when someone hits us in the mouth we don't hit them back. We didn't respond (to Georgia). We haven't accepted challenges very well. I don't think they're competitive enough and that's my fault."
The challenge facing the Cats now is arguably the most difficult since the probation years, although this one is self-inflicted.
Georgia lit up the Cats' normally stingy defense, scoring 47 in the first half after totaling 45 in the entire game in the first meeting. When the Bulldogs scored two more quick buckets out of halftime, UK coach Billy Gillispie took out the bulk of his lineup (he left Michael Porter) and replaced them with Darius Miller, Landon Sloan, Josh Harrellson and Kevin Galloway.
The ploy backfired as Georgia ripped off a 10-0 spurt from which UK never fully recovered. The Cats cut the deficit to 63-62 with 13:46 remaining but watched Georgia push it back out to 10 before mounting one final charge in over the final two minutes.
"It's all my fault," Gillispie said. "It was just mistake after mistake after mistake. It is pretty disappointing we couldn't play a little smarter."
A Jodie Meeks three cut the UGA lead to 83-80 with 1:58 left and UK held on defense but Michael Porter - who had hit five threes to that point - drew nothing but air on a triple from the left corner on the ensuing possession. Meeks then missed the second of two free throws - the first miss in 26 attempts for UK in the game - trailing by four and effectively ended the game.
When the final buzzer sounded more than half the Rupp Arena crowd had already filed into the parking lots, no doubt grumbling to themselves. The fans who stayed until the bitter end booed lustily as the Cats left their home floor in defeat for the sixth time this season.
Georgia had been putrid on offense for much of the season but got well in a hurry against the Cats. Just a 33 percent shooting team from three-point range on the year the Bulldogs made 11-of-16 (68.8 percent) and connected on 50 percent from the field. Like VMI, Miami, South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU before them Georgia looked awfully comfortable in the venerable old arena.
"A lot of folks seem to be having really good games against us," Gillispie said. "There is one stat that matters and that's winning. Period. Throw all the other ones out. None of that stuff means anything to me."
All that may matter now are those prayers.
Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here.