Alabama remains tied for first place in the SEC with a huge upset win at home over 12th ranked Kentucky. This was a huge win for the program on National television. Congrats to the players, Coach Grant, and his staff for making it happen.
Say what you want about Coach Calipari, but he is a very good coach. Anthony Grant matched him and outcoached him tonight. Kentucky is a much more talented team. They have 3 very good players, and their other 2 starters and bench players are all great athletes. They are young, and at times appeared to get frustrated and did not always play well together as a team. We won this one because our guys wanted it more. I'm not sure we have more than 2 players who would get significant playing time for them right now.
At the beginning of the game we looked tight and made some uncharacteristic unforced errors. UK took a 5-0 lead early and led by 6 at one point in the first half. We stepped up our defense, outworked them to a few loose balls, got some bounces and started knocking down a few shots to take a 7 point lead into halftime.
Once again, we almost screwed up the ending of the first half. We had all 5 timeouts remaining, less than 35 seconds left, didn't call timeout, and just like during the Arkansas game Releford took a shot with 10 seconds left. Fortunately, UK committed a foul on the rebound, and then we wisely (finally!) called timeout and got the last shot.
We had a stretch in the second half where we were on the fire, the crowd was rocking, and UK came completely unglued. We stretched the lead to 20, but watching the game you knew UK would make a run. They simply had too much talent not to, the question is how would we respond.
I thought we were running out of gas the final 5 minutes. Our guys were out of breath and cramping up. We don't have much depth, and we played insanely hard every possession for the first 30 minutes of the game. UK was attacking the basket, and getting to the line nearly every possession because we were too tired to get in good defensive position. We had a long scoring drought, but much of the credit for that belongs to UK's defense. Predictably, they got back into the game, but it seemed like every possession we had someone step up and make a play at one end or the other, doing just enough to cling onto the lead.
Senario Hillman stepped up and took a big charge in the final minute. At the other end, we cleared out for Hillman and he beat his man off the dribble, but instead of shooting the floater he continuted to the basket and committed a charge against the Kentucky defender who did a good job of moving into position and blocking the lane. In a close game in the final minute, the last person you want out with an injury is your starting point guard. Unfortunately, Releford landed funny and appeared to twist his knee when he fell awkardly attempting to drive to the basket. Ben Eblen has taken a lot of heat here, and yes he did pick up 3 fouls in 9 minutes of play, but he came up with a lose ball after Charvez Davis did a great job of knocking it away with 10 seconds left, and made 1 of 2 free throws to put us up 2 with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Coach Grant did a much better job of utilizing his timeouts in the final minute of the game. He waited to see how Coach Cal would line up, called a timeout, and called a good defense that forced them to inbound the ball deeper in their backcourt than they wanted, thus getting a longer, much more difficult, and contested shot at the buzzer.
Coach Grant proved why he is a $2 Million per year coach tonight. At times in the first half UK seemed to be consistently getting open shots against our zone. I was hoping we would abandon it completely, but now thinking about it, given the talent disparity at every position that would have been a disaster. Instead, we made subtle changes in positioning and substitution matchups, and pretty soon we were back to our lock down defense. His defensive calls in the last 2 minutes of the game were difference in a W and an L tonight.
As great of a win as it was, there are still a lot of things that need improvement. We struggled with the press at times, and 19 turnovers is way too much. Releford is a great PG, but he is still a true freshman and he played like it at times tonight. When UK was making their run, he made several bad decisions forcing circus shots early in the shot clock. Hopefully his injury is not too severe. He went down awkwardly and appeared to twist his knee, but he got up fairly quickly and was able to put some weight on it as he went to the bench. As frustrated as he got at times tonight, we will be in deep trouble if he misses any significant time.
We had good inside-outside balance tonight. JaMychal Green had a double-double in the post and Tony Mitchell had 15 points including a couple of dunks that really got the crowd going. We shot 7 of 14 from 3 point range, including Charvez Davis's 3 for 8. Davis' biggest play was knocking the ball loose on UK's next to last possession. Major props to Chris Hines, who had 7 points and 8 rebounds while fighting cramps and dehydration all night. He was a trooper for continuing to go out and give us everything he had. At one point during a timeout in the first half, he almost fainted and the assistant coaches had to catch him. He sat down, drank some water, and was back in the game 3 minutes later. Again in the 2nd half he had to come out with cramps, and he just looked under the weather. My gf noticed that he was not sweating like he normally does. Hopefully he gets feeling better, but he deserves credit for playing with such passion and fighting through the adversity.
The crowd was incredible tonight. I'm not sure if it sold out, but there were very few empty seats to be found. We had a record number of over 4,000 students attending! Much to the chagrin of the nice elderly couple behind us, we spent most of the night on our feet. I barely had enough voice left to complete the Rammer Jammer cheer at the conclusion. Of course, UK brought a fair number of fans, probably close to 1,000, a few of which were sitting near us. As usual, they were vocally supportive of their team, but very complimentary of our team in defeat. Also, credit to whoever is planning our halftime shows. Today's halftime show alone was worth the price of admission. I found a youtube video of the same performer and will post it below. It's a lady riding an elevated unicycle kicking bowls onto her head. Sounds weird, but just watch, it was amazing.
Up next, a trip to the ugliest village on the plains to play the AUful tigers Saturday. Tip off is set for 5pm Central. It will be televised on CSS. We need to stay focused and not have a letdown. Even though auburn sucks, it's very unlikely any team will ever go 0-16 in the SEC, and you know we will get their best game. It will be a much more difficult enviornment for us to go down there and win on the day of their temporary football national championship celebration than it was for the East Popcorn State's of the world who went down there and won in front of a dozen people. I will be there, and I'm hoping we aren't the only Bama fans in the gym.
Sorry for the length and rambling nature of the post. I just got home from the game and knew I was still too excited to be able to sleep for a while, so I figured I would throw something up. That being said, I'm too lazy to proofread or edit at this point, so it is what it is. Maybe I'll clean it up tomorrow. RTR!
Here is the halftime performer: