By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky had to overcome double-digit deficits last week to beat underdogs Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, but those wins still vauled UK to 12th in the AP national rankings this week because so many other teams lost.
Now UK has to go on the road to play Georgia tonight and Auburn Saturday.
“Tough week for us. I’m anxious to see how we respond because we’ve got two tough opponents,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday.
Georgia has a first-year coach in Tom Crean, the former head coach at Indiana. He’s put energy back into the fan base as Georgia announced sellouts for the Florida and Kentucky games, the earliest sellout in the Bulldogs’ history, on Oct. 24. Since then three other conference games have also sold out.
“First of all, I thought there were years where all we did was go to Georgia. I was like, ‘Do we ever get them at home?’ It’s always sold out. Somebody told me it’s been sold out since June. It’s a date marked on the calendar for the whole town,” Calipari said Monday.
“And you’re going in and they’re going to be ready to play –- and you have to be ready. With that being said, all the games are close, tough, hard-fought games. I would expect this to be the same.”
It helps Kentucky that freshman guard Ashton Hagans, a one-time Georgia commit before coach Mark Fox was fired, is leading the Wildcats’ defense and offense.
“We didn’t get him to flip. They made a coaching change and then they (his family) reached out to us about, ‘What about Kentucky?’” Calipari said.
“It’s funny how this stuff goes. Early in the season he’s struggling. Struggling to find his way, struggling to be consistent, struggling to play winning basketball. And then there’s a panic, and all of a sudden over the month he starts to get it, he starts to realize. We have a better feel for what he is as a player and now he just plays to his strengths. And like I said, he’s playing as well as anybody we have on our team.”
Still, Calipari knows going back to his home state to play will put some additional stress on Hagans, who has 22 steals in the last five games.
“It’s a hard game for him to go back. My guess is that he’s going to get mauled by their fans. That’s my guess,” Calipari said. “Then that becomes does that inspire him? Does that rattle him? None of us know. Let’s see.”