‘Rattled’ Kentucky beats Alabama 55-48
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach John Calipari said the No. 25 Wildcats were tentative in their return to the court following Saturday’s upset loss to South Carolina, and it showed. Their offense was sluggish to create open looks, and those they stumbled into weren’t falling.
Still, Calipari was thrilled his team topped Alabama 55-48 on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena despite shooting 32.7 percent and 5 of 18 from 3-point range.
“I’m happy. We’re still not all the way back,” Calipari said. “Guys were really tentative. James Young, 1 for 11. Aaron Harrison was 1 for 6 from the three. We had open looks and passed on open looks. Look, this is a young team. They got a little rattled.”
Power forward Julius Randle had his 17th double-double of the season. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. His two free throws with 3:10 to play gave Kentucky a 55-47 lead.
The Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) did not score after that, but Alabama (12-18, 6-11) was just as cold and mustered only one free throw in the final five minutes.
Alabama guard Trevor Releford’s free throw with 2:46 to play was Alabama’s final point. He led the Tide with 13 points.
The Tide led 32-28 with 19 minutes to play, but a 15-2 run capped by center Willie Cauley-Stein’s putback dunk with 9:58 left gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night.
Senior reserves Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood served as Kentucky’s starting guards on Senior Night and the two scored the team’s first two baskets, both 3-pointers. But Kentucky’s offense remained as cold as it was in a 72-67 upset loss at South Carolina on Saturday.
After Polson hit a 3-pointer to give Kentucky a 6-4 lead with 16 minutes to go in the first half, the Wildcats went six minutes without a field goal.
Meanwhile, Releford had the hot hand. He scored nine points in the first 10 minutes and led the Crimson Tide to a first-half lead as large as four points.
“I thought in the first half our guys did a really good job of trying to sweep the floor a little bit and keep them from taking advantage of the size advantage that they had,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “In the second half, I thought they hit some timely shots from the perimeter that were somewhat momentum-changing shots.
“You know, I think that’s just part of the game in terms of guys stepping up and making plays,” he said. “They needed to.”
Even though Kentucky’s offense was ice cold, the Crimson Tide could not create space. Alabama went into the locker room at halftime with a 28-25 lead, but the deficit could have been much worse than three points for the Wildcats.
Kentucky was 6 of 25 from the floor in the first half, but 11-of-15 first-half foul shooting kept the Wildcats in the game.
The Wildcats didn’t do much different in the second half. Calipari didn’t play a different rotation of players or attack the basket in a different way. Hood attributed part of the Wildcats’ shooting struggles to shooting with too much conscience and not moving on after misses or other distractions.
“Just go play,” Hood said. “That’s the thing. Go play. Players are going to play, coaches are going to coach, and officials are going to officiate. You can’t get all boggled up with the officials and how they’re calling the game or if Coach is on you or whatever. We’re 18-year-old men. Eighteen and above. I’m 22. We know how to play basketball at this point. Just got to go play.”
In the second half, poor offensive execution didn’t affect the Wildcats’ defense as much, and it showed in the number of stops and tough shots into which they forced Alabama. After making seven of their first 11 shots in the second half, the Wildcats sank right back into what had plagued them in the first half.
But the Wildcats weren’t thinking about it, and Calipari was happy.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys out there, talking them through stuff,” Calipari said. “Let me just say: You shoot 32 percent and win, you’re really happy as a coach. You’re happy.”
NOTES: Kentucky has never lost three
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