Coming for the Cats: Alabama basketball returns home to host unbeaten No. 1 Kentucky

Coming for the Cats: Alabama basketball returns home to host unbeaten No. 1 Kentucky

Layton Dudley

Levi Randolph and the Crimson Tide men’s basketball team will take the floor against Kentucky at home on Saturday. CW | Layton Dudley

Sean Landry

Since then, he’s built a team based on veteran athletes culled from impressive, if not five-star laden, recruiting classes, augmented by transfer athletes. His philosophy is one of hard work, of basketball played “94 feet, both ways,” which has had Alabama on the verge of breaking through as an 
SEC contender.

Grant has lacked a signature win for his tenure at Alabama. Under the Miami native’s direction, Alabama has defeated just three ranked opponents, and never one ranked in the top 10. His team’s best win came at home against a Kentucky team then ranked No. 12 in the nation.

Now, poised on the edge of national consideration, building a resume that currently places them as an NCAA Tournament “bubble team,” Alabama has a chance to announce itself as a team to be reckoned with and to win possibly the most important regular season game of Grant’s tenure when it hosts No. 1 undefeated Kentucky on Saturday. Alabama hasn’t defeated a No. 1 ranked team since 2004 when it took down Stanford in the NCAA Tournament.

“Obviously, Kentucky is coming in as the No. 1 ranked team in the country,” Grant said after Tuesday night’s loss to South Carolina. “They’re extremely talented, extremely well-coached and they play really hard. We’ve got to focus on what gives us the best chance to be successful and get ready for Kentucky.”

Kentucky leads the nation in scoring margin, blocks per game and defensive field goal percentage, and is second in the nation in scoring defense.

The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, has built one of the most elite defensive programs in the SEC. Alabama has conceded more than 60 points just twice since a loss to Xavier on December 6. Offensively, the team is growing into its own, and through three SEC games, leads the conference in two-point field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.

Senior captain and guard Levi Randolph has been the cornerstone of Alabama’s team this season. Alabama’s leading scorer, Randolph’s second-half performances have helped lead the Crimson Tide to its 12-4 record this season, and the former Mr. Basketball for Alabama had a chance to complete the Crimson Tide’s comeback against South Carolina on Tuesday night before his contested three-pointer fell short, ending the game with a 66-68 loss for Alabama.

“Every year, your role on this team changes,” Grant said earlier this season. “In Levi’s case, he has really stepped up. He’s been our leader and deserves all the success that he has had. It’s always going to be a team game and a lot of things that we are trying to do are team-oriented. But he’s the first guy to tell you it’s about getting a win. That’s where he has really stepped up, in his willingness to be vocal and compete on a nightly basis.”

Alabama has defeated Kentucky just twice in Grant’s tenure, with both wins coming at the Crimson Tide’s home court. Alabama is undefeated at Coleman Coliseum this season, and is 31-4 against conference opponents at home since 2011.

“We got a tough game, we got to go to Alabama, I bet you they haven’t lost there yet,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They’re playing well, had Wichita State down 10 with two and a half minutes to go. I mean, they’re a Top-20 RPI team. So, it’s going to be a hard one for us.”