Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scrambles for a loose ball in the second half Tuesday against Kentucky in Athens, Ga. Kentucky won, 57-44.
ATHENS — Surrounded by freshmen, the old man carried Kentucky in its first game back at No. 1.
Senior Darius Miller came off the bench to score 19 points and the top-ranked Wildcats cruised to a 12th straight victory, beating Georgia 57-44 on Tuesday night despite their lowest-scoring game of the season.
Miller, who had started eight of the previous nine games for Kentucky (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference), returned to the sixth-man role he had played earlier in the season. It didn’t really matter. The senior made 7 of 8 shots, including all four from 3-point range.
Good thing he did.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, with 14 points, was the only other Kentucky player in double figures. The Wildcats lowest-scoring game before Tuesday was a 62-52 victory over Old Dominion in November.
“I know there are times I have to step up,” Miller said. “We have different leaders. We all understand that. We’re happy with that. Tonight, the guys were looking for me because they knew I was hitting.”
Kentucky used spurts of 10-0 and 10-1 to build a 38-26 halftime lead. The Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5) never threatened in the second half, even though the Wildcats cooled off considerably. They went more than 5 minutes without scoring and made just 7 of 23 shots over the final 20 minutes.
Needless to say, coach John Calipari knows there are plenty of things his team can improve on before its next game Saturday at LSU.
“I’m happy we won,” he said. “But I want us to be even better.”
Kentucky, which had been No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings for two weeks early in the season, returned to the lead spot after Syracuse lost last weekend.
For one half at least, the Wildcats lived up to the billing against a rebuilding Georgia team that has lost five of its last six, but did start out with some inspired play before its first home sellout of the season.
Led by Nemanja Djurisic’s 10 points, Georgia kept it close for much of the opening half. The Bulldogs withstood that 10-0 run by Kentucky and trailed only 23-22 with less than 6 minutes to go in the period.
Suddenly, the Wildcats turned it on. Kyle Wiltjer knocked down a 3-pointer, then passed to Kidd-Gilchrist for a dunk. Dustin Ware answered for the home team with a 3-pointer, but that jumper with 5:01 remaining was Georgia’s final field goal of the half.
Kentucky scored 10 of the last 11 points in the half, with Miller putting up seven straight on a 3-pointer and two jumpers from inside the arc.
“We have so many weapons,” he said. “Anybody can go off on any given day. We just look for the guy with the hot hand.”
This time, it was the lone senior in a seven-man rotation that includes four freshmen and two sophomores.
“He played great,” said freshman Anthony Davis, who managed only four points but did have 11 rebounds. “He was knocking down 3s and getting into the lane. That’s what Darius Miller can do.”
Wiltjer added his second 3-pointer of the half, and the Wildcats went to the locker room with a comfortable 12-point lead. The Bulldogs staggered toward their tunnel with heads down, knowing they had given Kentucky their best shot and still faced a double-digit deficit.
Even though the shots didn’t fall in the second half, the Wildcats never let up on the boards or at the defensive end. Kentucky finished with a commanding 41-26 rebounding edge and held Georgia to just 35 percent shooting (19 of 55).
Kidd-Gilchrist had a double-double, pulling down 11 rebounds.
In the second half, neither team seemed to play with as much fire — maybe because so many shots clanked off the rim — and the crowd amused itself with dueling chants of “Go Big Blue!” vs. “U-G-A!” There certainly wasn’t much to cheer about on the court, with Kentucky appearing to play down to its competition and Georgia never getting closer than 10.
That wasn’t good enough for Calipari, who isn’t yet convinced his talented young team can make another trip to the Final Four.
“We’re just into our own thing right now and you can’t be a special team and be that way,” he said. “The biggest thing is let’s step this thing up. Last year’s team, I couldn’t believe we were as good as were so I didn’t have to say a whole lot. This year’s team, we could be really special and we’re not right now.”
Still, the Wildcats made it look easy. Since their only loss, a 73-72 setback to Indiana on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, they have won by an average of 17.3 points.
Ware led Georgia with 12 points. Djurisic failed to score in the second half.
“We had a burp there on defense late in the first half,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We were never able to get back in striking distance after that. It was a costly time period, but Kentucky is a terrific team. Their defense is just so good.”
MIAMI 64, GEORGIA TECH 49:
ATLANTA — Miami coach Jim Larranaga met with Malcolm Grant this week to make sure the senior guard understood the Hurricanes need his scoring more than his assists.
Grant, who had scored in double figures in only one of Miami’s first four Atlantic Coast Conference games, made four 3-pointers and scored 16 points to help the Hurricanes beat Georgia Tech 64-49 on Tuesday night.
Kenny Kadji scored 21 points to lead Miami (11-7, 2-3), which has won two of three. The Hurricanes took only their second road win in seven tries.
Kadji scored in double figures for the 10th time in 11 games. The key for Miami was having Grant, who led the team with 14.8 points per game last season, join Kadji as a top scoring threat.
“We had a conversation with Malcolm yesterday to explain to him we don’t expect him to get a lot of assists,” Larranaga said, adding that effective passes from Grant are good, but his scoring is crucial to Miami’s success.
“What we do expect from him is to shoot, and he’s a great shooter and if the others guys are working to get him open and he gets open, he is to shoot the ball with confidence,” Larranaga said.
Grant made 4 of 6 3-point shots.
“That’s basically his job, to make 3s,” Larranaga said.
Grant scored in double figures in eight of Miami’s first nine games but he suffered a sharp decline in production after attending his older brother Yatti’s funeral in New York and missing two games. He scored in double figures in only one of his first five games following his return, leading Miami with 16 points in the Hurricanes’ first ACC win over Clemson last week.
Grant said “everything I do” is dedicated to his late brother, who was 36.
“On the court, off the court, everything I do is for him,” Grant said. “We were so close.”
Grant wouldn’t say he has regained his shooting stroke.
“I don’t want to jinx myself,” he said. “I was able to play pretty well tonight. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Grant led Miami with 11 points in the first half.
“Malcolm carried us in the first half, and we just followed his lead,” Kadji said.
Kadji, who had 14 points in the second half, led Miami with eight rebounds.
Mfon Udofia had 14 points for Georgia Tech (8-12, 1-5). The Yellow Jackets, in last place in the ACC, have lost four straight and eight of nine.
Georgia Tech completed a stretch of three games in six days.
“We knew this stretch was going to be very difficult, the month of January,” said Georgia Tech first-year coach Brian Gregory.
Gregory said his team improved by committing only eight turnovers but overall “didn’t play well at all,” especially on defense.
Georgia Tech had only eight assists, including five by Glen Rice Jr., who had 13 points and nine rebounds.
“We need to get better at making the extra pass, driving the ball and kicking it out,” Gregory said.
“I think we scored on one true post move the whole night.”
Georgia Tech trailed 49-39 after a free throw by Rice with 7:12 remaining. Back-to-back baskets by Kammeon Holsey cut Miami’s lead to 54-45 with 4:26 remaining, but the Hurricanes answered with six straight points to push the lead to 15 points.
Grant had three 3-pointers in the first half. Freshman Shane Larkin’s 3 gave Miami its big lead of the half at 31-17.
Rice made only 1 of 6 shots in the first half, and his frustrations were obvious when he missed two free throws with 18.9 seconds left before halftime.
Rice, who leads the Yellow Jackets with his average of 13.7 points, kept shooting after the break. Rice scored on a follow shot and then had a 3-pointer as Georgia Tech cut Miami’s lead to double figures in the opening minutes of the second half.
“I guess I was just missing good looks,” Rice said. “They played good defense, but I feel like normally I should make those.”
Julian Royal had 11 points for Georgia Tech.
Attendance at Philips Arena, Georgia Tech’s temporary home while its new campus facility is being built, was 5,009.