It goes without saying that Kentucky needs this one. They need them both this week.
The Cats have lost six of nine since starting out league play at 5-0 and their NCAA tournament hopes are hanging by a thread. Two wins this week will ease a lot of anxiety going into selection Sunday.
Many are already pointing towards the showdown on Saturday in Gainesville, a match-up many are calling a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament. However, Kentucky must first focus on Senior Night at Rupp Arena and a Georgia team that is playing under interim head coach Pete Hermann.
The Bulldogs have struggled all season long and are 2-7 since Hermann took over for the embattled Dennis Felton. Their most recognizable win under Hermann was an upset victory over Florida in Athens. They are coming off of an 89-67 loss at Arkansas in a game that saw them shoot 51-percent from the floor but commit 21 turnovers.
Senior Day at Rupp is something special and the fans are sure to be there in full force to cheer on everybody’s boy, Jared Carter, despite the recent struggles. The Wildcats are 83-5 all-time on Senior Day and look to look to take the season series from the Bulldogs. They defeated Georgia 68-45 in Athens earlier this year.
Although, he suffered a high ankle sprain in October, freshmen Trey Thompkins (6-9, forward) has emerged as the Bulldogs leading rebounder (7.2) and second leading scorer (12.5). Injuries have been a problem for the freshman as he also suffered a knee sprain and a stress fracture which kept him inactive during the summer.
Despite all of this, Thompkins could possibly become the first freshman to lead the Bulldogs in scoring since Jumaine Jones did so in 1998. He also leads Georgia in blocked shots (1.1) and shoots just over 38-percent from deep.
For experience the Bulldogs lean on their two senior starters; Terrance Woodbury (6-7, forward) and Corey Butler (6-3, guard). Woodbury is the lone four-year senior on the Georgia roster and he has scored in double figures in all but six games this season.
Although he struggled much of the year last season with his perimeter shot, he is remembered for getting hot and carrying the Bulldogs on their miraculous run to the Big Dance. This season he is leading the Dawgs in scoring (13.6), is second in rebounding (4.6) and has connected on a team-high 41 threes. In their upset win over Florida he put up a career-high 32 points, shot7-of-10 from deep and as was perfect from line at 7-of-7.
Butler is doing what he did for Georgia last season: whatever they need him to do. After being picked up in January of his freshman year, Butler has really proved his worth and in doing so has earned a well deserved scholarship for his senior year, after playing as a walk on the previous three. This season he is playing just under 30 minutes a game, averaging 6.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and shooting just over 35-percent from deep.
Inside the Dawgs are led by the junior from Earlington, KY, Albert Jackson (6-10, center). Jackson, who played his first three years of high school ball at Hopkins Central High in Hopkinsville before transferring to Oak Hill for his senior season, has suffered numerous setbacks due to injury at Georgia.
In last season’s late run opponents saw what a healthy Jackson could do. But, this season he is again being hampered by injuries again, suffering a sprained ankle in an exhibition game vs. Albany State. He has scored in double figures only twice this season and has yet to do so in league play. Georgia really needs him to be more of an offensive weapon to see any type of success.
Expect freshman Travis Leslie (6-4, guard) and Dustin Ware (5-11, guard) to see extensive minutes for Georgia as well. Leslie is a tremendous athlete but has experienced ups-and-downs this year. In the second game of the season he scored 23 against Loyola-Chicago, but he has only scored in double figures four times since.
Ware, on the other hand, has improved as the season has progressed. He has scored in double figures in four of his last five games and gives the Dawgs a little more offense at the point guard position and because of that is seeing extended minutes. In his last five games he is averaging 10.8 points and 5.0 assists.
Sophomore Zac Swansey (6-1, guard) has seen his minutes decrease gradually due to the improved play of Ware. He is remembered by Kentucky fans for prematurely ending their SEC tournament run last season with a last second prayer. Swansey is an adequate point guard who protects the basketball and takes open shots. He leads his team in assists (3.0) and is ninth in the league in Assist-to-Turnover ratio. He has the ability to knock down big shots, as we have seen. He has scored in double figures only once in league play.
Even with Kentucky’s recent struggles they should not have any trouble with the Dogs. The Dogs are bad and the Cats simply do not lose on Senior Night. Plus a slip-up here will likely end any thought of being extended an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
At this point in the season you would hope that there would be more answers than questions. But, still many questions are to be answered on Wednesday night. The number one question on my mind is will we see more of the five that started the second half against LSU (Galloway, Meeks, Miller, Harris, Patterson)? Galloway ran the point effectively, they were long on defense and Harris was not such a detriment on the offensive side because each of the other four can score. Not in my wildest dreams would I expect this lineup to start but I hope it doesn’t take long to see them on the court together.
Senior Night in Lexington is always special. It automatically brings back memories of Tony Delk, Tayshaun Prince, Chuck Hayes and others crashing through their own image and holding their framed jersey on the Rupp Arena floor. Emotions run high throughout the Bluegrass on Senior Night and Wednesday night should be no different. Yeah, the 2009 class is not a big one but the lone representative sure is.
Jared Carter, the 7-2 center out of Scott County High School, came to Lexington with high hopes. He had improved dramatically during high school and chose Kentucky over offers from North Carolina and others. Kentucky fans were anxious to move past the project of Shagari Alleyne and hand the big man reigns to Carter.
In his first year he would play double digit minutes six times and score 19 points. Not a tremendous freshman campaign, by any means, but hope still remained that he could be a force underneath. Three seasons later and it just never happened. Injuries and mission trips overseas (not a bad thing, this is why we love him) always kept Carter at bay and he never consistently saw the floor. He played in just three games as a sophomore because of injuries and then played sparingly in his junior and senior seasons under Gillispie. Last season the Cats were forced to play without Patrick Patterson at Houston and fell 83-69. However, the big guy played a career-high 16 minutes, shot 3-of-5 from the field for six points and brought down four rebounds. It remains his best game as a Wildcat. After scoring 19 points in his freshman year, Carter scored only 19 in the three ensuing seasons.
However, on Senior Night we recognize a lifelong UK fan who has consistently smiled through the obvious tough times in Lexington. He has always been the biggest fan on the bench and because of that the fans of UK basketball look forward to the opportunity of cheering Jared Carter one last time.
Will he get the start? Who knows? But let’s hope JC gets an opportunity to see the court one last time.
JC…JC…Put in Jared Carter
JC…JC…Put in Jared Carter