If the lack of cleverness in the title of this post didn't give it away, DJC is in California for the football game and asked for someone else to handle the recap duties for this game. Alabama kicked off the conference season with arguably one of the bigger wins of Avery Johnson's tenure, a 77-75 victory over the 13th ranked Wildcats.
Both teams came out hot, scoring 31 combined points by the first media timeout. Kentucky got most of their points in the paint with Reid Travis, while Alabama was hot from the three point line, courtesy of Tevin Mack, who had his best game in an Alabama uniform scoring 22 points on 8-12 shooting (6-8 from 3). He scored 20 of Alabama's 38 first half points, which kept the game close as Kentucky scored 40 first half points.
It was high level offensive basketball for both teams in the first half, but it was Alabama's defense in the second half that allowed them to build some separation in the game. After shooting 50% from the field in the first half, Kentucky only made 37% of their shots in the second half. Alabama also won the rebounding battle (40-32), limiting the Wildcats to only six offensive rebounds. Kentucky entered the game as one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country with a 40% rate, but finished this game with only a 15% rate. That stat was arguably the biggest of the game for Alabama.
Alabama appeared to have the game well in hand when John Petty made a layup with 1:01 left in the game, making it an 8 point game. Unfortunately, our guys, particularly Dazon Ingram, (who had a very good game if not for his five turnovers) got loose with the basketball in the final minute. Dazon had two crucial turnovers in the final minute which led to five Kentucky points, while Kira Lewis also had a turnover against the Kentucky press that led to another basket. The result was a one-possession game with thirty seconds remaining. Fortunately, Alabama did make 3-4 from the free throw line in the final minute, but the sloppy ball-handling leading to Kentucky points meant the Cats still had a chance to win, down only two, with four seconds left. Tyler Herro had a great look at the basket, but fortunately his shot didn't fall. In total, Alabama had 17 turnovers in the game, but still found a way to hang on late for the win.
In addition to T-Mack's performance, I thought Herb Jones had his best game of the season with a 10 pt, 8 reb, 6 asst and 0 turnover performance. He also knocked down both of his free throw attempts. Donta Hall had his sixth double-double of the season, and his third straight. There's a long way to go, but Donta is having an All-Conference type of season. Kira Lewis didn't have his best game, but he was aggressive throughout, ending with a solid stat line of 12 pts and 3 assts (along with 4 turnovers). JP and Alex Reese also had their moments on Saturday. And as I mentioned, Dazon had a very good game if you take away the turnovers.
In sum: what this game showed is that Alabama has the talent to play with most, if not all teams, on any given day. The team is deep, they're an improved team on the offensive end, they've been a much better team on the glass than I thought they would, and the chemistry of the team seems to be improving week to week. If they can continue to improve on the defensive end, they've got a chance to finish much higher in league play than I think many of us thought coming into the season.
I've got to give the fans a lot of props. I wasn't sure what to expect from the turnout with the football game on Monday and the students still out on break, but not only did fans turn out in force, they were loud and into the game from start to finish. It was the kind of environment that will hopefully become commonplace if the program can attain more consistency.
Next up is the first road game in conference at LSU. Three of the next four will be on the road for Alabama so this win today along with this upcoming stretch will be crucial. More about LSU in my forthcoming game preview. Toodles.