Tide beats reigning champs
The Alabama men’s basketball team overcame a slumping first half to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats 59-55 on Tuesday Jan. 22 in Coleman Coliseum.
The Crimson Tide (12-6, 4-1 SEC) outscored the Wildcats (12-6, 3-2) 35-22 in the second half and held them to 29.6 percent shooting from the floor, 39.3 percent total for the game.
Coming back from a halftime deficit has become customary for Alabama, which has won three of four potential comebacks because of the team’s second-half efforts. Tuesday was the Tide’s fourth consecutive win.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Alabama played with guts in the second half rather than dominating the stat sheet, which propelled them past his Wildcats.
“When I was coaching at UMass, I loved it when my team shot 34-35 percent and won,” Calipari said. “[Alabama] shot 36 percent, 15 percent from three, got out-rebounded by 12 rebounds – listen, folks – and won. I love that kind of game.
“It’s a gut game. It had nothing to do with anything else. Neither one of us played well. They gutted it. They had discipline at the end. We did not.”
Kentucky sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer paced his team with 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Wiltjer said the second half was what made the difference in Tuesday’s game.
“We didn’t close it out,” Wiltjer said. “They made their run, and we didn’t execute down the stretch.”
Junior guard Trevor Releford posted 13 points for the Tide and said the sold out crowd’s intensity fueled him and his teammates during the second half.
“I think that gives us an extra boost,” Releford said. “When we hear the crowd behind us, I think that just fuels the guys and the team. We just wanted to get another steal and make another big play and just keep going.”
Alabama received major contributions from its two biggest players: Nick Jacobs and Moussa Gueye. Jacobs led the Tide with 14 points and five rebounds, while Gueye tallied four points and five blocked shots. The frontcourt duo held Kentucky
star freshman Nerlens Noel to eight points, but Noel was still able to swat seven balls.
Grant said the defense was the catalyst in the victory.
“I thought our defense was solid,” Grant said. “We set in, we started to guard, we got stops, we got some good effort, a lot of different guys on the defensive end, and we made enough plays from an offensive standpoint. I’m just proud of the guys for pulling one out.”
Trevor Lacey exited the game with 4:26 left in the second half because of cramps in both calves.
Calipari commended Alabama for its second half efforts and tenacity to close out the game in the commanding fashion that it did.
“You have to give Alabama credit. They fought and had great confidence, and they played to win,” Calipari said. “We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times.”
The Tide’s next game will be against the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday Jan. 26 at 1 p.m.