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January 8, 2010

Dawgs set to challenge No. 3 Wildcats

One thing that's become quite apparent with first-year Georgia coach Mark Fox is that he's a straight shooter when it comes to answering questions from interested reporters.

That includes thought on his team heading into Saturday SEC opener at No. 3 Kentucky (4 p.m., ESPN Full Court).

The Wildcats, under first-year coach John Calipari are rolling into the contest at Rupp Arena a perfect 15-0, and boasting arguably the country's most exciting player in freshman player John Wall (17.2).

In fact, teammates DeMarcus Cousins (15.2 ppg, 9 rpg) and Patrick Patterson (16.6 points, 8.6 rebounds) are also considered lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft providing Georgia with arguably the toughest challenge it will see all year.

Fox is under no illusions, either. But that doesn't mean he's ready to concede a thing to the talented Kentucky squad.

"I don't think it's shameful to admit that we're out-talented in certain ways," Fox said Friday at the team's practice facility. "I think that one of the things this team has been able to do is accept that we might have some deficiencies in certain areas, and because we've been able to accept that and play a certain way, it's enabled us to win some games that maybe on talent alone we shouldn't have."

No doubt beating the Wildcats would certainly qualify as the Bulldogs (8-5) biggest win to date, although Georgia has already pulled a couple of impressive upsets in Fox's first 13 games as coach.

A 70-66 victory over Illinois at the Gwinnett Center and Tuesday's 73-66 win over No. 20 Georgia Tech certainly opened the eyes of many, but Fox doesn't want his team to be satisfied.

"We've gotten better each week, which was really important for us, to try and improve to make some progress in all parts of the game. I think we've been able to do that," Fox said. "We still have a lot of improvement left in us I think, but I've been real pleased with our kids' approach. One thing I really wanted to address was our mentality that we had in our lockerrooom, and I do think that's changed. They're excited about coming to the gym every day, and they're getting better. That's a credit to the kids."

Of course, getting a few wins along the way doesn't hurt.

"When you do things right, as a coach, when you preach that they do things a certain way and they do it, it just reinforces the process," Fox said. "The win over Illinois did and I think the win over Georgia Tech did the same thing. They believe in what we're doing and certainly when they do things like we tell them to do, play a certain way and play intelligently, they're going to give themselves a chance to win and those are two examples to that."

Fox said that he could not be more pleased with the way his players have bought into his system, and players like Trey Thompkins (16.2 ppg), Travis Leslie (12.8) and Ricky McPhee (9.3 ppg) continue to lead the Bulldogs from the offensive end of the court.

They, along with the rest of their teammates, will need to be at their collective best to beat a program Fox compares very favorably to Calipari's Memphis team his former Nevada squad played in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

"I played Cal's team in the second round of the tournament in 2007, and this Kentucky team, I wouldn't say far better, but much better than that Memphis team was because they're from top to bottom can score from anywhere. They can score inside, outside, and very, very talented. He's got them playing together, he's got them playing hard and he's got them defending. They're very deserving of all the accolades they're getting."

Georgia at No. 3 Kentucky

WHERE: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m.

RECORDS: Georgia 8-5, 0-0; Kentucky 15-0, 0-0

TV: ESPN Full Court

RADIO: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network

NEXT UP: Wednesday, Ole Miss, Stegeman Coliseum

NOTES: Several of the Bulldogs, including Fox himself, have been battling through flu-like symptoms the past several days. … Freshman point guard Vincent Williams has been hampered by a sore knee and a sore ankle which he sprained twice earlier this season. … Georgia tips off the SEC portion of its schedule with a Saturday afternoon contest at Kentucky. … The win over Tech represented Georgia's first victory against a ranked opponent in almost three years, going back to a buzzer-beater vs. LSU in January of 2007. Bulldog teams had dropped eight such games in a row before Tues¬day night's win. … Saturday's game is the 135th all-time meeting between these two schools. Kentucky owns a 110-24 lead in the series, though seven of Georgia's wins have come in the past eight years, including once each from 2007-09. … In 2009, Georgia won at UK for just the fifth time ever, taking a 90-85 decision on March 4. … This game holds particular significance for Georgia's operations coordinator Mark Pope. The first-year coaching staff member played his final two collegiate seasons (1995-96) at Kentucky.



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