The Alabama Crimson Tide was riding a three game winning streak going into Saturday’s game with Kentucky, and for the first 17 minutes of the game it looked like the streak might reach four. With 3:29 left in the first half the Tide held a lead of 46-34, but were outscored 13-0 thereafter and entered the half trailing 47-46. Kentucky won the game 90-81 and improved to 22-5 overall, 11-3 in SEC play.
Bama built the lead on the back of some uncharacteristically hot shooting from three point range. At one point, the Tide had made nine of 12 from deep. Keon Ellis, who did not score a point in Wednesday’s victory over Mississippi State, was shooting out of his mind, to the tune of 5-6 from deep and a total of 17 points in the half. Ellis was joined in the starting lineup by Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, Charles Bediako, and Juwan Gary. At the break the Tide shot 46% on 17-37 with 9-22 (missed their last 10) from three point range and 3-5 on free throws. The Cats were 16-32 from the field, 3-5 from three, and 12-15 (must be nice to get to the line) on free throws.
In the second half, the Tide kept things close for the first six minutes or so, and even had a lead of 56-54 after a Shackelford three with 16:06 left in the game. By the time there was 8:36 left the Wildcats held a comfortable 76-61 lead. Bama closed the margin to 80-73 with 4:53 left. Ellis made a steal and was driving to cut the lead to five, but lost the ball for a turnover. Kentucky scored on the possession and coasted home for the nine point win at 90-81.
In the second half, the Tide shot 13-32 for 40% with 5-18 for 28% from three and 4-4 from the free throw line. Overall Bama was 30-69 for 44%, 14-40 from three for 35% and 7-9 for 78% from the stripe. The Tide finished with 32 rebounds, 17 on the offensive end, 15 assists, six steals, five blocks, and only nine turnovers. UK shot 17-30 for 56% in the second including 6-9 from deep and 3-4 from the free throw line. For the game, Kentucky finished 33-62 for 53%, 9-14 for 64% from three and 15-19 for 79% on free throws. The Cats grabbed 39 rebounds including 16 on the offensive end, and had 13 assists, seven steals, three blocks, and seven turnovers. Alabama was called for 16 fouls in the game while Kentucky was whistled only seven times. The mystique of Rupp Arena even gets to the referees.
Individually, Ellis finished with a career high 28 points and added five rebounds and four steals, while shooting 10-16 overall and 7-11 from three point range. Shackelford was 5-12 from deep and finished with 18 points with five rebounds and three assists. Noah Gurley continued to do great work on isolation in the paint and tossed in 12 points in 18 minutes of play. JD Davison led the team in rebounding again with seven while adding six points and a team high five assists. After Quinerly’s big game Wednesday against MSU he only made three of 10 shots, went 0-4 from three, and scored six points with three assists. Bediako shot 3-3 and had six points, five rebounds, and two blocks.
Kentucky’s Kellen Grady shot out lights out making 7-9 three point attempts and had 25 points. The nation’s leading rebounder, Oscar Tshiebwe, had 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Cats. Keion Brooks, Jr. had 18 and Jacob Toppin added 13. The Wildcats were playing shorthanded and the starters played all but nine minutes of the game.
After the game coach Nate Oats continued his season long plea to his team that they need to play harder. This has been the theme all season and the third year coach seems at a loss on how to get through to this group. The Tide shoot well enough, and scored enough points, to win most games. The defense was the culprit in allowing 90 points. At this point knowing which players will play hard on a given night is a crap shoot. You can hear the frustration in Oats voice after each loss, and some wins. Nevertheless, at 17-10 and 7-7 in the league with several marquee wins the Tide still projects as a tournament team with a seed in the five or six range. There will need to be some victories over the last four games and in the SEC Tournament.
Next up is a road trip to play Vanderbilt in Nashville. The game is on Tuesday at 8 p.m. CT and will be shown on the SEC Network.