ATHENS, Ga. -- Kentucky’s arrival at Stegeman Coliseum is always a special occasion for Georgia’s basketball fans.
Today the history-rich Wildcats (19-1, 5-0 SEC) will arrive as the nation’s top-ranked team, as they supplanted previous No. 1 Syracuse in Monday’s newest college basketball polls.
It will be the first time since Florida’s 2007 win here that the Bulldogs have faced the No. 1 team in the polls.
“How many people get this chance in life? How many people get this chance?” asked Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose team will host the Wildcats at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN3. “I never got it as a player. You don’t get it real often as a coach, but it’s just a great opportunity. They’ve got a terrific team. They’ve got an outstanding team.”
Georgia’s history against top-ranked teams is not pretty.
Tonight’s game will mark the 12th time Georgia (10-9, 1-4) has tried to topple the No. 1 team, having lost the 11 previous attempts. Seven of those losses came against a team that eventually won the NCAA championship -- and three of them were Kentucky (in 1978, 1951 and 1949).
In all, Georgia has lost to a No. 1 Kentucky team six times, but 1978 was the last time that happened.
Oddly enough, however, a team Georgia defeated actually paved the way for Kentucky to move into the top spot in the polls.
Notre Dame -- which Georgia defeated 61-57 this season in the CBE Classic in Kansas City -- knocked off previously unbeaten Syracuse 67-58 on Saturday. That same day, a Tennessee club that Georgia beat last week -- earning its only win in league play thus far -- shocked defending national champion UConn.
In some way, that might indicate that Georgia is not as bad as its unsightly conference record.
“We still have a two-minute drought or two minutes of bad play here or there that separates winning from losing,” Fox said, “but we still have had some good minutes, and we’re getting better.
“We’re having a tough start to SEC play, but we’re not by any means a bad basketball team. We haven’t played well, but I think if we can just become a little more consistent and more mature when the clock’s ticking that we can continue to get better.”
In fact, Kentucky coach John Calipari said his team has already dodged bullets twice in three SEC road games and he expects more of the same against Georgia. The Wildcats edged Tennessee by three points and needed a late run against Auburn to win by 15 after trailing midway through the second half.
He said that competitiveness speaks to the rising level of SEC competition since he came into the league three years ago.
“By far this is the best this league has been,” Calipari said. “We have five teams in this league that I believe are Sweet 16 kind of teams. Alabama has that kind of talent. Vanderbilt. Mississippi State going to Vanderbilt and winning shows how good they really are. We’re not even talking about Florida anymore. I think hopefully we’re an NCAA tournament team.”
Obviously that might have been an example of false modesty. The Wildcats carry an 11-game winning streak into tonight’s game and have four of the SEC’s top 21 scorers in Doron Lamb (14 ppg), Anthony Davis (13.7), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13.2) and Terrence Jones (11.9). Early SEC freshman of the year favorite -- and possibly player of the year -- Davis also ranks first in the league in field goal percentage (63 percent) and blocked shots (4.7 bpg) and second in rebounding (10.3 rpg).
Fox knows his team faces a major challenge just to remain competitive with the high-powered Wildcats tonight.
Kentucky is second in the SEC in scoring at 79.5 points per game, while Georgia is last at 61.9 ppg, so Fox said the most important factor for the Bulldogs is to be more effective on offense than they have been lately. Otherwise, they might find themselves in a sprint they can’t win.
“You have to have good offense because they’re a great defensive team and they get a lot of offense off of their defense,” Fox said. “So you have to be efficient offensively first of all so they’re not track meeting it the other way, just dunking the ball in the basket.”