What if I told you Alabama would hold Kentucky to 40% shooting, hold UK under 70 points, out rebound the Cats, and have Charles Bediako score 12 points and grab eight rebounds? You would say the Tide most likely would win the game, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
Not when Bama shot 28% from the field and 10% on 3-30 from three point range, as two of the team’s best outside threats combined to go 0-10 from deep. Despite playing good defense and winning the battle of the boards, the Wildcats prevailed over the Tide by a score of 66-55. Kentucky improved to 19-4 overall and 8-2 in the SEC and Bama fell to 14-9 and 4-6 in the league. This was the first game this season that the Tide has lost when holding their opponent under 70 points.
Coach Nate Oats sent out a starting lineup of Juwan Gary, Jaden Shackelford, Bediako, Keon Ellis, and Jahvon Quinerly. Top sub Darius Miles was not available due to suspension for a violation of team rules. Leading scorer Shackelford was a game time decision due to an illness but gave it a try.
The Tide started out on fire, jumping out to a 9-1 lead and causing UK coach John Calapari to call a timeout. From that point forward the Cats outscored the Tide 65-44. After the timeout Kentucky scored five straight before Oats subbed in with Jusaun Holt, James Rojas, Noah Gurley, and JD Davison along with Quinerly. Not exactly an offensive unit. Ellis hit a three pointer to give the Tide a 21-19 lead before the Cats went ahead 33-27 heading to the locker room for half time.
At the break the Tide was shooting 10-30 for 30% with 2-14 for 14% from three and only 5-10 from the free throw line. Kentucky was 12-29 for 41% including 2-6 from deep and 7-8 from the free throw line. Bediako had 10 points at the half.
Alabama started the same five in the second half and hung tough for about the first five minutes, cutting the lead to 39-35 with 15:06 left in the game. With six minutes left in the game the lead had ballooned to 14 at 57-43 and it appeared the Tide was headed to an Anthony Grant type result offensively. Not only did Bama continue to miss, and miss badly, from deep, they missed point blank layup after point blank layup like it was their job. With 2:40 left Davison finally made a three point basket, ending a streak of 23 straight misses by the team. The Cats ran the clock out and headed home with the 66-55 victory.
The Tide shot 8-34 for 23% in the second half and 1-16 from three with 11-14 from the free throw line. For the game Bama was 18-64 for 28%, 3-30 for 10% from three, and made 16-24 for 66% from the free throw line. The Tide was 13-25 on shots at the rim. Alabama had 47 rebounds including 16 offensively, 10 assists, 5 steals, four blocks, and committed 15 turnovers. Kentucky was 12-31 for 38% in the second half including 2-5 from three and 7-11 on free throws. The Cats had 44 rebounds, 13 assists, 12 steals, two blocks, and committed 15 turnovers.
Individually, Bediako’s 12 points came on 4-4 shooting from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line. The freshman also led the team with eight rebounds. The next leading scorer was Rojas with eight points and five rebounds. Davison and Shackelford both had seven while Shackelford and Ellis were held to six each. TyTy Washington led UK with 15 and he had four teammates score 10 each. The nation’s leading rebounder, Oscar Tshiebwe, had 15 boards to go with his 10 points.
After the game Oats had his obligatory plea for the team to play hard for the full 40 minutes and to “get lost in the game and don't allow missed shots affect you on defense.” This has reached the point of having to be said every game, which he has done. Oats went on to say “you can't win shooting 3-30 from three point range” and that “we have won some games when not shooting well, but never this bad.” Of the 15 turnovers Oats said “15 is too many and a lot of them were just careless, we have to take better care of the ball.”
When asked if Miles would be avaailble next week Oats said “when we sit down and talk with him we will make that decision, but I think he should be good to go.” When a reporter asked at what point do you maybe try something different, the third year coach answered, “We are going to play the way we play. We have shooters, we can't change what we do midstream, we recruit to this style and this is what we play.” Oats went on to say “We need more paint touches and have to get to the line more” and that “JQ and Shack have to score for us to have a chance and they didn't do that tonight.”
What can you say about this one? The team played hard and played really well on defense but absolutely couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. That last part has not changed for much of the season. At what point do you try something different? Do you continue to fire away wildly from behind the arc and hope for the best? The team does not really have enough threats on the inside to scare teams. Mid range jump shots are not something that Oats abides, so the wild drives to the basket and the late in the shot clock heaves from three will continue.
The team and fans will just have to hope at some point that the shots will start to fall. With the three point performance on Saturday the Tide fell to 30% on the year, which checks in at 312th best in the country. That is not going to win many games. So we are left with keep doing what they are doing and hope that the shots might eventually start falling. The law of averages say that they should, but we have not seen much evidence that they will. With six conference games left and some marquee wins under their belt the team still has a chance but time is running out. A 9-9 conference record with a win or two in the SEC Tournament could even garner the team a decent seed in the NCAA, but if things continue to go south they could end up in the NIT.
Next up is a trip to Oxford to play the Ole Miss Rebels on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in a game that will be shown on the SEC Network.