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Georgia begins conference play with a test at Kentucky

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A tough test to start.

NCAA Basketball: Temple at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A disappointing loss at UMass notwithstanding, Georgia came through its non-conference slate largely unscathed at 9-2 and may have played its best over the last two weeks with blowout wins over Temple and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have a big test in front of them tonight when they open conference play against Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

Georgia’s 9-2 start tied the best 11-game start the team has had during Mark Fox’s tenure as head coach. There were some near-misses in the early going but the Bulldogs have resume building wins against Saint Mary’s, Temple and Marquette. Forward Yante Maten is the reigning SEC Player of the Week and has cemented his status as a Player of the Year candidate averaging a team best 20.2 points and 9.3 rebounds.

However, this Bulldogs team is far from a one man show. In fact its depth and balance is becoming one of its biggest strengths. Point guard Turtle Jackson has taken a big step forward this season shooting 43 percent from three-point range and is second on the team in scoring at 12.1 per game. Freshman Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton are playing meaningful minutes. Fox is routinely going 9 or 10 deep every game and Georgia has been able to wear down some opponents.

They will need a complete effort Sunday night against a Wildcats team that is 10-2 and loaded with length and athleticism. Kentucky’s two losses came in neutral site games to Kansas back in November and UCLA on December 23. They rebounded from that loss to the Bruins by whipping rival Louisville 90-61 on Friday.

Kentucky offers a balanced attack led by shooting guard Hamidou Diallo who is averaging a team-best 15.3 points on 46 percent shooting. 6-9 forward Kevin Knox is a tough matchup and is right behind Diallo at 15.1 per game. Kentucky’s top six scorers are freshman which is no surprise given that John Calipari has more than embraced the one-and-done era.

Sunday’s game is the only meeting between the two teams this season. The Wildcats normally overwhelm teams with its depth but are down a couple of players due to injury. The team is still waiting on Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and Jemarl Baker (knee) to return from injury. Neither has played at all this season but could be back soon and should provide more depth by the time tournament season arrives.

Kentucky is 124-26 in the all-time series and a staggering 60-5 in Lexington. The Bulldogs took the Wildcats to overtime at Rupp last season before falling 90-81.

Sunday’s game will be televised nationally on ESPN with tip off slated for 6 p.m. ET.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Sunday, December 31, 6 p.m. ET

Location: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky

TV: ESPN

Streaming: WatchESPN.com

Radio: Georgia Bulldog Sports Network. (Flagship: WSB AM 750 Atlanta)