NASHVILLE, Tenn. | On the back of John Wall’s 16 second-half points, Kentucky fended off a scare from Alabama in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament, edging the Crimson Tide 73-67 in The Sommet Center Friday afternoon.
“To say it’s a tough loss would be an understatement,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “Our guys game out today, and we played to win. We certainly had opportunities in the game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish it out.”
The seats were filled with Kentucky blue, but Wildcat fans did not have much reason to cheer early on. Perhaps off its momentum from an 18-point comeback the day before, the Tide jumped out to the biggest lead of the entire game for either team, using a 12-0 run to go ahead 19-8 with 11:39 left in the first half.
Kentucky was able to regain some momentum before halftime, but Alabama still led 35-30 after the Wildcats’ only 3-pointer of the game fell at the first-half buzzer.
The Tide outrebounded one of the best rebounding teams in the country by 10 in the first half and held the second-chance point advantage, 12-6.
“You all know rebounding is just effort, and they had more effort than we did to go after the balls [in the first half],” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “You can make whatever excuse you want… They want it more than we do.”
But the Wildcats used plenty of effort to get to the rim in the second half. Kentucky went on a 7-0 run early in the second half, highlighted by an old-fashioned three-point play by freshman point guard John Wall, to take its first lead of the game since the Wildcats led 6-5.
Kentucky did not trail the rest of the game. The Wildcats stretched the lead to as much as 10 with 9:47 to go when Wall slammed down an Eric Bledsoe miss.
“[Wall’s] a great point guard,” said Alabama senior guard Mikhail Torrance, who led the Tide with 20 points. “There’s a reason he was the SEC Player of the Year. I try to make it as tough as I can, and he just made some plays.”
Wall finished with a game-high 23 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists. Patrick Patterson added 20 points for the Wildcats.
Alabama pulled as close as three with 1:44 remaining, but the Tide could not slow down Kentucky enough to complete the comeback. Sophomore forward JaMychal Green came off the bench to score 14 points and haul in 11 rebounds. Freshman forward Tony Mitchell also had a double-double for the Tide with 10 points and 12 boards.
Kentucky dominated in the paint, as Alabama could not stop the penetration of Wall and Bledsoe. The Wildcats held a 46-26 point advantage near the basket.
“We mixed our defenses up the whole game,” Grant said, “and [Wall and Bledsoe] did a great job of penetrating and either making shots on their own or finding teammates for open looks.”
Now that the Tide has been eliminated from the SEC tournament, Alabama hopes to receive a bid to play in the National Invitational Tournament in the coming weeks.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll have an opportunity to continue to play,” Grant said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens throughout, but I think we made some strides in the right direction over the course of the year.”