ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia kept it close most of the first half against top-ranked Kentucky.
Then, just like that, the game got away from the Bulldogs.
Darius Miller came off the bench to score 19 points and the Wildcats pulled away just before halftime, cruising to a 57-44 victory over Georgia on Tuesday night despite their lowest-scoring game of the season.
Led by Nemanja Djurisic's 10 first-half points, the Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) showed no fear early on against a Kentucky team playing its first game since moving back to the top of the rankings. Georgia withstood a 10-0 run by the Wildcats and trailed only 23-22 with less than 6 minutes to go in the period.
Suddenly, the Wildcats (20-1, 6-0) turned it on. Kyle Wiltjer knocked down a 3-pointer, then passed to Michael 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 finished the half with a 10-1 spurt, as Miller scored seven straight on a 3-pointer and two jumpers from inside the arc. After that, the Wildcats' 12th straight win was a formality, even though they scored only 19 points 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."
Fox said the Bulldogs simply couldn't cope with a team that has the 6-foot-8 Miller at guard and 6-7 Kidd-Gilchrist playing small forward.
"Their length in their size just overpowers you," he said. "When your 2 guard is as big as Miller is, then you have Kidd-Gilchrist at the 3 — and those guys are the size of power forwards — they can just overpower you."
Miller, who had started eight of the previous nine games for Kentucky, 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.
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."
No one was hitting in the second half. Kentucky 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.
"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."
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. They arrived in Athens to face rebuilding Georgia, which has lost five of its last six but did start out with some inspired play before its first home sellout of the season.
"Everybody got up for this game, and we kind of rode that at the beginning," Georgia's Gerald Robinson said.
It didn't last. Not with Georgia's top two scorers having miserable nights. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was 3 of 11 from the field and finished with seven points — less than half his 14.7 average. Robinson, averaging 13.8, settled for six points on 3-of-14 shooting.
"We fought hard," Ware said, "but we just couldn't get it done."
Down by 12 points at halftime, 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. Anthony Davis also had 11 rebounds.
Ware led Georgia with 12 points. Djurisic failed to score in the second half.
After the break, 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.
Since their only loss, a 73-72 setback to Indiana on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Wildcats have won by an average of 17.3 points.
Not good enough, according to Calipari.
"I'm happy we won," he said. "But I want us to be even better."
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