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Tide Falls Short In Late Game Rally

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Alabama
Once again Braxton Key was the bright spot for Bama
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight home game, the Crimson Tide followed the same script. Hang close for a while, miss tons of free throws, turn the ball over at an alarming rate, fall behind by 15 points, and storm back with late fury to make the game close. This time, ‘Bama fell to Kentucky by a score of 67-58. Last week it was a 82-77 loss to the Auburn Tigers.

In the first half, the Tide stayed within range by playing strong defense, while not being able to score. With just a few minutes left, the game was a 22-19 affair, before the Cats finished on a 7-1 run to take a 29-20 halftime lead. The Tide shot 8-25 (32%), including 1-7 (14%) from the field, and an abysmal 3-11 from the free throw line in the first stanza. With a few missed front ends of one-and-one, the free throw situation was actually worse than it appeared.

In the second half, the Wildcats started fast and built a formidable lead, before the Tide finally caught fire. UK is a guard-centric team, with future NBA stars in freshman Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. However the lesser thought of front court gave the Tide much more trouble. Seemingly the Cats scored at will inside with layups and alley-oop dunks. ‘Bama has been a physically tough defensive and rebounding team through out the year, but they were out-toughed and out-rebounded in this game, which was a surprise. UK out-rebounded the bigger Tide by a margin of 41-38 in the game.

With 10:52 left, and down by a 46-30 score, ‘Bama finally seemed to wake up and try to make a game of it. With Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram leading the way, the Tide cut the lead to 55-49 with just over two minutes left, and again cut it to six at 57-51 with 1:32 left. The Cats’ Derek Willis then buried a deep three pointer to shovel dirt on the Tide’s chances.

Once again it was to little too late for the Crimson Tide. The team shot a decent 23-51, 45%, from the field, but was only able to make 3-14 (21%) from the three point line. Even worse, and more importantly, they shot 9-26 (35%!!) from the FREE throw line. With missed one-and-one opportunities, that mark falls even further. There really is no excuse for athletes of this caliber to shoot that poorly when unguarded. The Tide defense held UK to 27-62 shooting (43%) and 3-15 (20%) from deep. The Cats hit 10-18 for 56% from the free throw stripe.

One game after the thrilling four overtime victory over South Carolina by a score of 90-86, the Tide once again struggled to score. The bench, led by Avery Johnson, Jr and Ar’Mond Davis, scored 60 points against the Gamecocks. Today the bench scored only seven points. Johnson and Davis combined for two points, one game after combining for 42.

‘Bama continued to struggle with ball security, committing 16 turnovers against only four assists. The Tide is normally good for four to five blocked shots a game, had zero against the Wildcats. Meanwhile, Kentucky blocked six Alabama shots, while committing 12 turnovers and dishing out 12 assists. Key led the Tide with 21 points and grabbed four rebounds. However, he also had five turnovers. Ingram had 12 points with eight rebounds, three assists, but also five turnovers. Riley Norris scored nine, and no other player had more than five points. Bola Olaniyan had 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, with four on the offensive glass.

The Tide hung in against a much more talented team that didn't play its best game, but did not do the things needed to win. The free throw shooting has got to be mental at this point. The majority of the turnovers are unforced errors. On four occasions, with a fast break in progress, Tide players passed the ball toward players that were not looking at all, and the ball sailed harmlessly out of bounds. That being said with all the negatives, the team still hung in when they could have been blown off the court. There is no such thing as moral victories, but it is good to see effort, however ineffective it is.

‘Bama has a better road record in the SEC than they do at home, 4-2 compared to 3-3. The next contest is to play Missouri in Columbia on Wednesday at 7:30 CT on the SEC Network. That is followed up by a Saturday 2:30 game at home with LSU. Two very winnable games. With a 14-10 overall record and a 7-5 mark in conference, the Tide needs the next two wins. After that, there are home games with Georgia and Ole Miss and road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee. If ‘Bama can pull off four or five wins in the remaining six, they should be in position for an opening day bye in the SEC Tournament. An 11-7 or 12-6 mark would be an amazing feat for a team with a patchwork roster and no real go-to scorer. Reinforcements are coming. Hang in there.

Roll Tide Roll and Buckle Up