For the first time in too long, Alabama basketball beat the Kentucky Wildcats. The Crimson Tide needs to ride the new momentum in a tough January schedule.
For Alabama basketball any win over the Kentucky Wildcats is big. Over a six-year period, the Cats had won 10 straight over the Tide. Saturday’s 77-75 home win came at a most important time for the Crimson Tide. In the next two weeks, the Tide will play LSU, TAMU, Missouri and the league’s best team, Tennessee. Three of the four games are on the road. Only the Aggies at home offer what should be a low-stress win.
Saturday’s victory over the Cats had plenty of stress. Much of it the Tide players contributed to, making six turnovers in the final 2:28 of the game, allowing an 11-point lead to shrink to the final two-point margin.
The near-collapse was overshadowed by an otherwise solid team effort. Tevin Mack had his best game as a Crimson Tide player, exploding for 20, first-half points on 6-for-6 three-point shooting. Other than Donta Hall’s eight, first-half points, Mack had little offensive help. Herbert Jones was also key to only a two-point first-half deficit with six assists and strong defensive play.
The Wildcats adjusted at halftime, holding Mack to only two points after the break. Dazon Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. picked up the scoring slack. Joining Mack, Ingram and Lewis, in double-figure scoring for the game, were Donta Hall and Herbert Jones.
Avery Johnson may not have made specific half-time adjustments but he pulled the right strings to flip another key stat. Most of the first half, the Wildcats dominated the boards. In the last six minutes of the first-half, the Tide pulled down eight rebounds, cutting the Cats’ rebound advantage to a single board at halftime. The resurgence in rebounding continued in the second-half with Alabama basketball finishing the game with an eight board advantage.
Kentucky has come a long way from the season-opening beatdown it received from Duke. Until Saturday, the only other loss for the Cats was 84-83 to Seton Hall. The Cats were on a three-game winning streak, beating Utah, North Carolina and Louisville.
Alabama basketball fans are wondering if Saturday’s signature win means Avery Johnson’s team has turned a corner. It is too early to make that conclusion. A secure ball-handler is needed in late game situations. Kira Lewis Jr. is yet to develop into that role. Dazon Ingram doesn’t have the ball protection skills. Avery’s perplexing substitution patterns still result in wasted possessions. The Crimson Tide and perhaps even the coach need to place greater value on every possession. The win over Kentucky does make up for the disappointing loss to Georgia State – and more.
Next up for the Crimson Tide is a Tuesday night game in Baton Rouge, against the 10-3 Bengal Tigers. After dropping back-to-back games to FSU and Oklahoma State, LSU has rebounded, winning five of its last six games.