4:00 PM ET, March 2, 2003
Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- With No. 2 Kentucky trailing in the second half, Marquis Estill wasn't worried about the nation's longest winning streak."I was thinking about what we needed to do to win this ballgame,'' Estill said. Estill had 16 points for the Wildcats, who forced five straight turnovers during a game-deciding run to beat Georgia 74-66 on Sunday for their 18th straight victory. The Bulldogs (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) were playing their first game without assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr., who was suspended Friday after a former player accused him of paying part of his expenses and committing academic fraud. The player, Tony Cole, also told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he used the personal credit card of head coach Jim Harrick to buy a TV while he was enrolled in school. "I don't think that what's happened in the last couple of days had anything to do with this game,'' said Harrick, who only took a few questions. Chuck Hayes added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Wildcats (24-3, 14-0 Southeastern Conference), who clinched a share of the Eastern Division title. They lead Florida by two games with two games left for each team, including a season-ending matchup in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday. "We are relieved to get the win,'' Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "Our kids kept their composure and played with a lot of confidence. Composure is a quality of a team that expects to win. "Our kids came ready to play.'' Ezra Williams had 17 for Georgia (17-8, 9-5), which had won four straight. Kentucky hasn't lost since Dec. 28, when Louisville blew out the Wildcats 81-63. During the streak, they've won by an average of 16 points, and they'd won their previous five road games by at least 16. "The winning streak is something we're proud of, but we're just taking care of business,'' Estill said. "We don't talk about it too much.'' The decisive spurt started on two free throws by Estill, which gave Kentucky the lead for good at 56-54. The Bulldogs went six straight possessions without scoring, and the final five of those ended in a turnover. They entered averaging a league-best 12 turnovers. "That was part of our game plan,'' Kentucky guard Gerald Fitch said. "They get their offense started with that pass to the wing, and we wanted to overplay the passing lane and get them out of their offense.'' The Wildcats scored six unanswered points for an eight-point lead, and Georgia could get no closer than four the rest of the way. "We just buckled,'' Georgia's Jarvis Hayes said. "I don't know what it was. We thought we were where we wanted to be, just down two, but we didn't get it done.'' The Bulldogs had used a 10-0 run early in the second half to take a three-point lead, and the teams swapped the lead four times before Kentucky pulled away. Estill wasn't on the court for most of Georgia's spurt, sitting down with 18:25 left after picking up his third foul. "I didn't want to sit when I got that foul,'' Estill said. "But on the bench, I just tried to stay focused, so when I got back in, I would be ready to play.'' When he returned, Kentucky ran most of his offense through passes to him in the post. This strategy paid off by putting Georgia in foul trouble, with Hayes and Ezra Wright both picking up their fourth in the final five minutes, and Estill made 3-of-6 from the line for that 56-54 lead. Hayes, Georgia's leading scorer, eventually fouled out with 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. The Bulldogs shot only 38 percent as a team. Steve Thomas had 12 points and 11 rebounds. "Our guys played very hard,'' Harrick said. "It was a very, very tough, physical game. We shot 38 percent, they shot 40 percent. I just thought we fouled them a few times too many.''
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