Great game plan, but poor execution. It's tempting to throw up a bunch of 3s against a superior team like this in hopes that you have a couple of guys get hot, but Coach Johnson wisely avoided that trap. The problem with that approach, is that if you have a poor shooting day, you allow the opponent to push the tempo and get quick baskets on long rebounds. Instead, we focused on attacking the basket with the dribble drive. It worked, we drew a lot of fouls and controlled the tempo of the game. Unfortunately, we shot an embarrassingly putrid 9 of 26 from the free throw line, only made 3 of 14 from 3 point range, and turned it over 16 times. That's too much to overcome against a great team.
I'm not going to harp on the free throw shooting. It is what it is at this point, and I think I've already said all there is to say about it in previous posts. I've heard a lot of analysts say that it "cost us the game," but just saying "if Alabama shot a decent percentage they would have won" is not necessarily accurate. It certainly would have been a different game, but there is no way of knowing how both teams would have responded or did things differently in a closer game. At minimum, it cost us a chance to win the game.
The offense struggled throughout but a great defensive effort kept things from getting out of hand. Despite an extended scoring drought, we were only down 29-20 going into halftime. I knew the first 4 minutes of the second half would be crucial. It featured 4 UA turnovers and the Kentucky lead grew to 15. They led by 18 with 10 minutes remaining, and it's nearly impossible to come back from that deficit against a team as talented as Kentucky.
Alabama never gave up in this one and continued to fight. The offense opened up a bit in the paint when we got Adebayo fouled out. It also helped that Kentucky was only 10 of 18 from the line themselves. We cut the lead to 6, but it never felt like we were a serious threat to win the game. It seemed like every time we were on the verge of making it a game, Isiah Briscoe would answer with a huge basket.
Alabama's soft man defense was very effective. Even guys who are sometimes a liability on defense really stepped up on that end. Davis and Corbon both did a nice job of staying with their guys. We switched to a zone for a bit in the second half, and at the time I thought it was a good move. It seemed like our offensive frustrations were starting to spill over to the defensive end, and it was good to give them another look. I think we stuck with it a bit too long though, as we were out-rebounding them until the switch, but struggled to get rebounds out of the zone. Also, while I'm normally a proponent of pressing after made free throws, we had no business trying to press this team. Every single time we pressed, they broke it for an easy layup or dunk.
Key did everything he could to bring us back. I loved his aggressiveness and he scored 21 points. Nevertheless, we can't win with Dazon and Key combining for 50% from the line and 10 turnovers, but that's going to happen from time to time when relying upon freshman.
I would also like to note that Kentucky got away with 3 or 4 obvious travels. It didn't have an effect on the outcome of the game, but I think the officials were anticipating a bit based on Kentucky's reputation.
As for Kentucky, they are a team that is less than the sum of their parts right now. They have the length and athleticism to be a great team on both ends of the court, but they don't always make good decisions or play with the most effort. It will be interesting to see if they get it together over the next month, but they aren't a final four caliber team right now.
Up next, we go to Missouri for a 7:30 start Wednesday night. This game concerns me. Mizzou has won 2 of their last 3 coming off a 20 point win over Vandy. We aren't good enough to take a night off on the road. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.