"It's just a coincidence that we have two wins over them. We have beaten some other awfully good teams, too, but both teams are going to be desperate for a win."
That's because Georgia (16-12) probably needs at least one more win to earn an NCAA Tournament bid and UK (23-4) feels it needs to make Sunday's championship game to earn an NCAA tourney No. 1 seeding.
The Bulldogs beat Kentucky 65-57 Jan. 17 in Lexington and then knocked off UK 74-68 Feb. 14 in Athens, Ga., when Kentucky's leading scorer, Gerald Fitch, was out with a hand injury. In the first game, Georgia had the lead the final 12 minutes and outrebounded UK 36-23. The second game, the Bulldogs overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half. Georgia had seven blocked shots and 13 steals in the win.
Smith questioned his team's physical toughness after both losses. Erik Daniels had just five rebounds total in the two losses and point guard Cliff Hawkins managed just five assists because of the defense of Georgia's Rashad Wright, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year.
"We know this might be a different game"
"We know this might be a different game," Wright said after scoring 12 points and handing out five assists Thursday. "We are going to be aggressive. That's our style. We won't back down."
"The best thing for us is that it is a situation where we won't have to work too hard to motivate our guys," said Cameron Hill, UK's director of player development, after watching the Bulldogs' win. "We hopefully are a little different team than when we played them early. With what they do now and how they play, our efficiency offensively and defensively will give them problems.
"We have gotten better since we played them. Our efficiency offensively and defensively will give them problems. On defense they try to make it difficult for you to execute, but we have more options now than we did then."
The Bulldogs may have, too. Georgia was last in the SEC in 3-point shooting during the season and averaged only five 3-pointers per game. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs were 8-for-14 from 3-point range in the first half and 13-for-24 in the game, including an 8-for-12 performance by freshman Levi Stukes. In the two wins over Kentucky, Georgia was a combined 11-for-31 from 3-point range.
"They have a great defensive presence, but if they are a little lax, it sometimes can be on covering the 3-point shot," Stukes said. "When we get those same shots, we have to make them."
The Bulldogs also understand that Kentucky wants to beat them because of the two regular-season losses.
"They probably do still feel like they are better, but they certainly have to respect us," Stukes said.
"We will match their intensity," Hayes said. "We've got to stay physical. If they want to think the other two games were flukes, fine. Let them think what they want. All I know is that when you get a chance to play Kentucky, you are going to be hyped."
Felton doesn't think either team's emotion will be as big a factor as execution will be.
"I think they were as motivated as they could be the second time we played them," Felton said. "We were fortunate enough to come out on top then. I expect the same kind of deal tomorrow with two teams really going at it and wanting the win in the worst way. The one that executes the best will be the one that wins."