ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Kentucky has its first SEC Tournament opponent, and it won’t be the sexy matchup everyone envisioned. Former 5-star recruit Michael Porter Jr. made his long-awaited return for Missouri in the second round on Thursday, but the Tigers missed a late winning 3-point try and lost to Georgia, 62-60.
So it’ll be a rematch with the Bulldogs (18-14) for the Wildcats (21-10) at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday. Kentucky coach John Calipari can correctly say he saw this coming.
“I would not be surprised to see Georgia march through this tournament. Not at all,” he said Monday. “One, they got a great coach. Two, they have an unbelievable player in [Yante] Maten [the AP SEC Player of the Year]. And three, they’re right on the edge. I mean, they’re losing games in the last two minutes on crazy plays by the other team.”
Calipari reminded reporters of those remarks on Thursday night after the matchup was set.
The Bulldogs started this season 11-3, including quality nonconference wins over Saint Mary’s, Marquette and Temple, before losing 11 of 16 to close the regular season. Down the stretch, they did beat Florida and Tennessee — but then blew late leads against Texas A&M and the Vols last week.
Now they’ve knocked off Vanderbilt and Missouri on consecutive days to set up a showdown with Kentucky.
“I hit Mark [Fox] and just told him, ‘You are coaching your brains out,’ ” Calipari said of the Bulldogs’ embattled big whistle, who is likely coaching for his job this week.
There have been too many of those near-misses in nine seasons under Fox, including a 66-61 loss at Rupp Arena in both teams’ SEC opener way back on Dec. 31.
“We’re a way different team than three months ago,” UGA senior guard Juwan Parker said. “We had freshmen that were acting like freshmen and now they’ve grown up. Don’t really remember much about the game except for Kentucky being Kentucky: they’re long and athletic as always.”
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