Georgia junior Rayshaun Hammonds (20) sets up a free throw. The University of Georgia men’s basketball team hosted North Carolina Central to win by a score of 95-59 on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

The Georgia men’s basketball team felt what it was like to win on the road against a top-10 opponent when they beat No. 9 Memphis on Saturday. It was the first time a Georgia team did so since Jan. 17, 2004.

Now in a new decade, the Bulldogs didn’t even talk about their win when they returned to practice on Sunday. It was all about watching film and preparing for a home matchup with Kentucky on Tuesday.

“There’s not enough time in two days to get ready for [what Kentucky does], so we better get ready for the spirit, the tenacity and the energy they play with and then try to get a feel for their physicality,” head coach Tom Crean said.

The Wildcats head into Tuesday’s game ranked No. 14 in the nation and coming off wins over Missouri and Louisville. Head coach John Calipari brings back yet another set of young talent into this season. Crean commended Calipari for his ability to get the most out of his players over his multiple-decade career.

With Kentucky’s talent comes the spotlight. Accompanying Kentucky will be ESPN coverage and a primetime 9 p.m. tipoff, something Crean and the Bulldogs are excited to have.

“As a competitor, this is the type of environment you want,” freshman Sahvir Wheeler said. “I just know that the opportunity itself to play against a big-time blue blood program is amazing, and I’m truly, truly excited.”

Kentucky poses a different set of difficulties for the Bulldogs, but Crean believes the Wildcats exhibit some similarities to Memphis that his team can build on.

Kentucky and Memphis both pride themselves on athleticism and getting into transition for a major chunk of their points. While both teams play both ends of the floor at a high level, one aspect sets the Wildcats apart — physicality. Kentucky’s presence appears everywhere on and off the stat sheet through rebounding, defending and free throws.

Kentucky is shooting 80.1% from the free-throw line, which ranks No. 3 in the nation. The Wildcats average 22.8 trips to the line per game. On the other hand, Georgia is tied for No. 286 in the nation in free throw percentage at 66.3%. The Bulldogs have failed to eclipse 14 attempts in each of the past four games. If Georgia gets in foul trouble, and Kentucky continues to shoot free throws efficiently, the Bulldogs will have a tough time competing.

Crean thinks playing with fouls is just the nature of the SEC. The Bulldogs don’t have the depth down low to match Kentucky, so Rayshaun Hammonds and the Bulldogs know they have their hands full. He expects it to be just as tough as the SEC gauntlet kicks into high gear. 

After Kentucky, Georgia travels to Auburn on Jan. 11 to face one of the two remaining undefeated teams in the country.

“It’s time to put on your grown-man pants now,” Hammonds said. “It’s big games from now on. You can’t take any days off, every day is for real.”

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