Well, it can’t be a disappointment when a team with nothing to lose falls to the overwhelming favorite, right? Right?
No, that hurt. Alabama fought with all they had throughout the entire game, and was within striking distance the entire time, giving us all hope that we might could fell the giant. And then the giant took it all away.
The first half was a series of highs and lows for us Alabama fans. The Tide started out with a vigor we’ve barely seen this season, especially on defense, holding the Wildcats to 5 points in the first five and a half minutes of the half, and leading by as much as 10. Then Kentucky reminded everyone why they’re one of the best teams in the nation every year, storming back on a 15-3 run and leading by as much as 7— a streak catalyzed by a series of Alabama turnovers and Kentucky dominance in the paint.
To their credit, though, the Tide buckled down and curtailed the Wildcat attack, bringing the game to only a 1 point difference, 33-32 going into halftime.
The second half started similarly, as Alabama jumped out to a 36-33 lead, but then slowly relinquished the advantage as the Wilcats built up a 2-3 possession lead for much of the half.
With 8:17 left in the game, Derek Willis hit a three-point shot, and then Kentucky went on to not hit a single shot for the next 6 minutes, clinging to the lead only by shooting so many free throws that the game looked like it had turned from a basketball game to a game of horse.
Then De’Aaron Fox, the freshman, turned into a magical fairy that scored 3 straight baskets for Kentucky--all of them of the impossible variety. That, coupled with the steady stream of free throws, kept the lead by a few points throughout the last 4 minutes despite some heroics by Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key. Alabama finally fell by a score of 74-79.
Dazon Ingram led the way with 17 points on the night, including 4 rebounds and two assists. Unfortunately he also led the team with 4 turnovers. Behind him, Braxton Key scored 11, despite missing his first 7 shots. He added 6 rebounds and 4 assists of his own, including some impressive work underneath the basket in the critical moments of the game.
RIley Norris scored 9, adding 6 rebounds of his own. He was 1-6 shooting, but led the team with 6 points from free throws. Bola Olaniyan and Corban Collins each scored 8, while Jimmie Taylor and Avery Johnson Jr. scored 7 apiece.
It really was an all around team effort, with Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key really taking the lead. It was sloppy at times, and a lot of great offensive movements were wasted by missing open shots, but all-in-all, you can’t complain too much about scoring 74 points against Kentucky.
The bigger issue was the defense. It wasn’t that they played poorly- in fact, they had the Wildcat offense stymied for much of the game (except when Fox transcended this plane of existence)- it was that they couldn’t stop fouling. Many were ticky-tack, but many weren’t. Kentucky shot double the amount of free throws that we did (39 compared to 20), and thats what made the difference in the game.
And so ends the Tide’s sudden hot streak in the SEC tournament. No one expected us to be able to beat Kentucky, not even us, but the loss still hurt. Now we get to see what kind of postseason bid Alabama will get. An NCAA tournament bid is pretty much out of the question, so the NIT seems pretty likely. The last few games of the regular season had me pretty worried that the Tide would even drop out of an NIT bid, but this last surge should assure a spot.
Go enjoy your weekend now that we don’t have another game to watch tomorrow. There will be at least one more Alabama basketball game this season, then we can all look forward to the A-day game.