Originally created 01/17/04

Kentucky coach Smith goes for win No. 300 against Georgia

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A win on Saturday against Georgia would give Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith his 300th career win, something which doesn't seem to excite Smith.

"It's a matter of longevity," Smith said Friday. "It means you've lasted for a while, and that's about it."

What gets Smith excited is last-second shots to win games, like the fifth-ranked Wildcats (11-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) received from Erik Daniels on Tuesday to escape No. 20 Mississippi State with a 67-66 win. Winning 300 games is simply a byproduct of having good players, Smith said.

Smith, who coached at Tulsa and Georgia before arriving at Kentucky in 1997, will with his next win become the sixth NCAA Division I coach to reach the 300-win mark in 13 seasons or less, joining Roy Williams, Everett Case, Denny Crum, Jim Boeheim and Nolan Richardson. Of the six men, all but Williams and Case have won at least one national title.

Smith may not think the 300-win mark is special, but his players do.

"That's a big accomplishment for him," senior guard Cliff Hawkins said. "I'd love to be a part of it. He deserves it. He's been here and been through a lot. He really deserves it."

The other number being bandied about by Kentucky fans is 19 - the number of consecutive regular-season wins against SEC opponents. Kentucky last lost a regular-season game to an SEC opponent on Feb. 27, 2002, when Vanderbilt beat the Wildcats 86-73. The Wildcats are favored to extend that streak against Georgia (8-5, 0-2), which has lost its first two SEC games under coach Dennis Felton by more than 20 points each.

Smith said the Wildcats are not focused on the streak, which is the seventh-longest in SEC history. Kentucky has posted five of those streaks, including a record 51-game run from 1950 to 1954 under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.

"It is a point of pride," Smith said. "It says a lot about this group of young men and how they've been able to overcome and even prosper under the pressure in this tough league."

That streak was in major jeopardy Tuesday, when the Wildcats blew an 18-point lead and trailed previously unbeaten Mississippi State in the final seconds. Then Kentucky received some good fortune and a heads-up play from Daniels.

After the possession arrow on a jump ball favored Kentucky, Hawkins inbounded the ball from the side with 2.5 seconds left and tried to throw a lob to Chuck Hayes underneath. Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts reached for the ball with two hands and deflected it, but it went right to Daniels, who made a layup as time expired.

Kentucky hadn't won a game with a last-second shot since Jan. 27, 1998, when Nazr Mohammed's basket allowed the Wildcats to edge Vanderbilt 63-61.

Felton, who came to Georgia from Western Kentucky, has enjoyed success at Rupp Arena. Felton's Hilltoppers shocked Kentucky 64-52 during the 2001-02 season opener, one of only five SEC losses for the Wildcats at Rupp Arena during Smith's tenure. Kentucky's veteran players, to a man, say that game will not affect how they play Saturday.

Georgia recorded its most impressive win of the season on Jan. 3, beating then-No. 3 Georgia Tech 83-80 in double overtime. But the Bulldogs have struggled in SEC losses to Tennessee (89-65) and South Carolina (84-63). It the first time in school history Georgia had opened SEC play with two losses by 20 or more points.

Citing overall fatigue, Felton gave his players three days off after the South Carolina game last Saturday.

"Kentucky represents something that every program would like to enjoy," Felton said. "They have established themselves in this league and it's going to be a tremendous challenge. They hardly ever get beat by anyone at Rupp Arena. This is our opportunity to raise our game to another level, and we will have to do that to have a chance to win the game."


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