They’ll be talking about this one for a long time in Lexington. What happens when another slow Alabama start meets a freakish performance by one of the worst shooting Kentucky teams in recent memory? An absolute blowout.
The Alabama Crimson Tide likely punched their ticket to the big dance by winning a thriller over Texas A&M on Thursday, and then running top-seeded Auburn out of the gym on Friday. But, a win over Kentucky on Saturday would have been great insurance, and would have greatly improved Alabama’s seed line. However, the hot shooting Wildcats had other ideas and won going away, 86-63.
Playing their third game in three days, and without their best inside player, most didn't give the Tide much of a chance. Donta Hall was placed in concussion protocol after a scary fall on in his during the Auburn game. Against the big, long ‘Cats Hall’s presence was sorely missed.
The game began with nine freshman starting, with Alabama redshirt sophomore Dazon Ingram being the lone non first year player. The Tide pared Collin Sexton, John Petty, Galin Smith and Herbert Jones, with Ingram, while the Wildcat’s started five of their heralded freshman.
The Tide hung close in the first half, until it ended the period making only one of their last eleven shots. For the half ‘Bama was 7-23 for 30% including 2-8 for 25% from the three-point line, while going 3-5 from the free-throw line. Kentucky was 11-23 for 48%, going 4-9 from deep (44%) and 3-7 from the charity stripe. The Tide actually lead in rebounding 18-15, but was hurt by eight turnovers — at one point it was turning the ball over every 80 seconds. The halftime score was not pretty, but still a manageable 29-19 in favor of Kentucky.
It may as well have been 100.
Alabama scored enough second half points to win most games (44) but gave up 57 to the Wildcats. Kentucky put on a shooting display rarely seen by Man, making 16-19 from the field (84%), including 8-of-9 from three-point range for 89%. Toss in 17-of-21 free throw shooting, and it makes a tough night. The Tide was a much improved in the second half, going 15-35 (43%) and 6-16 from deep. The Tide even went 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
That was in vain, as the Wildcats Wenyen Gabriel put on a performance for the ages, hitting 5-5 from deep in the second half, and 7-7 for the game -- he is a career 33% deep shooter. And all of this happened after only making eight baskets from behind the arc in his last eight games. The Tide actually pulled within nine points when John Petty (remember him?!), hit a three-pointer with a little over six minutes remaining. The Cats went on another run and quickly put the game out of reach, keeping the margin at 18-20 for the rest of the game.
Petty finally had a breakout game away from Coleman, making 5-9 shots from beyond the arc and 6-11 overall, scoring 18 points. Sexton continued his brilliance with 21 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Sexton broke two of James “Hollywood” Robinson’s records during the tournament, the first being his freshman season scoring record with 590 points on the season. Robinson scored 554 points in the 1990-91 season. Sexton also scored 79 points in the Tournament to eclipse Robinson’s 77 tallied in 1992.
No one else really helped scoring-wise, with Avery Johnson, Jr. putting in seven points and Alex Reese and Daniel Giddens five each. Smith started, played 16 minutes, and contributed four fouls and one turnover. Thats all. No points, no rebounds, no assists. Jones only was on the court for 13 minutes, mostly due to four trouble, and also had zero points and pulled down one rebound. Giddens lead with seven rebounds.
It is hard to beat anyone when they shoot 64% (27-42) from the field, and 67% from three-point range, (12-18). The Cats converted 20 of 28 free throw attempts, pulled down 27 rebounds, and twice as many assists (20) as turnovers (10). The Tide made only 22 of 58 shots for 38% with 8-24 (33%) from deep. Free throws were above average at 11-15 for 73%. ‘Bama won the boards, but only had six assists paired with 11 turnovers -- though the Tide played a clean second half, the eight early miscues hurt.
Wait and see. The general consensus is that the Tide is safely in the 68-team field. We will find out tomorrow during the new format of the selection show. Erik, Parker, and the gang will have coverage coming.
You have to be proud that the Tide didn't mail it in and just play out the string. Sexton put the team on his back and willed them to two important victories on Thursday and Friday. Hopefully all the “Bama is so much better with out Sexton” fools will now sit back and appreciate the year that the special freshman from Mableton, GA has given the Tide faithful. Here is looking for the ride to last just a little bit longer. This is a team that could flameout in the first round, or give people fits and go on a deep run.