Remember the days of Grantsketball?
From 2009-2015 under head coach Anthony Grant, Alabama’s basketball team was mired in mediocrity, with 90% of the games being low-scoring slogs of a hoops match. While the team was consistently one of the better defenses in the conference, the offensive output was generally atrocious.
To put today into perspective, a 70-point outing would have been a great showing on offense back in those years. Instead, we’ve gotten so used to the high-flying offense of Nate Oats that this felt like the worst performance on offense in years (it wasn’t... Alabama scored less in the losses to Clemson and Stanford to open this season).
The Tide opened the game with the same unending barrage of three-pointers that have fueled this month-long win-streak, jumping out to a quick lead as the camera showed Wildcat coach John Calipari shaking his head in disgust before the Alabama player even got the shot off.
Alabama hit a brick wall at 17 points, though, with the abrupt shortage in scoring giving everyone watching a case of minor whiplash. They missed 11 of their next 13 three-point shots, and suffered a rash of turnovers while trying to drive the basket. There was a determined effort to drive and then make a highlight pass in the lane, and Kentucky’s defense just kept waiting for that baseline pass.
On the other hand, Alabama’s defense channeled the ghost of Grantsketball, and played absolutely lights out on defense, holding Kentucky to only making 9 shots in the entire first half. The Wildcats did manage to leverage their superior size into picking up a good many fouls against Alabama, and over 1⁄3 of their first half points came off of free throws.
The game should have been tied at halftime, but Jahvon Quinnerly made a long buzzer-beater prayer of a shot to take a 3-point lead.
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking Alabama would collapse in the second half against Kentucky with so many fouls having already been called against them. Of course, you could also be forgiven for having hope that they’d refocus and fix the offense after halftime.
Neither happened, of course. Instead, Alabama went out and played a half of basketball so ugly that Coach Grant was probably in tears all the way in Dayton. The Alabama defense absolutely stymied Kentucky in every aspect, holding them to only 27 points on a 33% shooting rate while forcing 8 turnovers.
Of course, the Alabama offense was arguably even worse. They only scored 6 total baskets for 13 points the entire half, and nearly all of those were fast break scores off of Kentucky turnovers. However, the Tide did something that would have been unthinkable to anyone who’s been a fan of Alabama over the last three coaching regimes: they won the game with free throws.
Kentucky was absolutely determined to prevent Alabama from scoring at all costs, and it led to a ridiculous 26 free throw attempts in the second half for the Tide. And instead of faltering and letting the opponent back in the game with missed free throws, Alabama calmly scored 22 free points, including 10 straight right at the end as the Wildcats tried to extend the clock.
For the game, Alabama only shot 39% overall, and 30% from three-point range. Despite their lack of size compared to the larger Wildcat lineup, they held even with rebounds and blocks while outscoring Kentucky in the paint 28-16. That, along with the 20 points off of turnovers and impressive free throw performance gave Alabama the gritty victory despite Kentucky shooting 43% from three point range.
Jaden Shackelford was by far the team’s top player today. He led the team in scoring, minutes, and number of elbows taken to the nose. The sophomore scored 21 points while going 10/10 on free throws, added five rebounds, and didn’t have a single turnover despite playing all but 4 minutes of the game.
Herb Jones was his usual self, padding the stat sheet with pretty much every stat in the book. He had 13 points of his own (9 from free throws), led the team with 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. All team-highs.
John Petty and Josh Primo added 10 points each, and the rest of the bench picked up a few points here and there. Juwan Gary had three nice plays under the basket to get 6 points, but his night was overshadowed by missing a dunk on a beautiful alley-oop pass.
This, following the win over Mississippi State last weekend, marks two weeks in a row that the Alabama offense hasn’t played at the elite level the have been for the last month. You can look at that negatively, but you could also look at that as the team learning to grit out some wins with defense, free throws, and paint play against larger lineups.
Getting Jordan Bruner back from his knee injury will be a huge help for the Tide, but you can’t help but be proud of the team for playing so well underneath the basket and matching up with Kentucky all game long in defense and rebounding.
This team just keeps rolling, and will be looking to build on their shiny new #9 rating this weekend against Oklahoma. Expect some fireworks in that one, as the Sooners aren’t going to be slowing down the game like the Wildcats and Bulldogs tried in the last week.