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By Chris DePew
March 11, 2017
What did we learn today?: That the gap is closing between where Bama is and where it wants to be. Avery Johnson’s fifth game coaching against Kentucky ended like the other four, but Saturday’s effort and competitiveness was a big improvement on last month’s 67-58 loss in Tuscaloosa and light years removed from last year’s three Wildcat routs. After going 1-4 last March and a shaky 3-5 record this February, Johnson proved at this tournament he could get a team to hit another gear at crunch time. Playing relaxed and confident after knocking off South Carolina, the Crimson Tide shocked Big Blue Nation by seizing an early 17-7 lead, resisting UK’s first big surge to stay within a point at the half and staying within a possession or two until the very end. Regardless of what happens in the NIT, Bama fans can be proud of this team and more hopeful that Johnson will get results out of a monster incoming recruiting class.
What were the biggest concerns?: One of the risks of playing with all-out abandon is accumulating foul trouble, and the Crimson Tide got whistled 28 times. None of those fouls may have stung as much as Bola Olaniyan’s fourth foul with 14:37 remaining. He had just made his fourth basket a minute earlier to tie the game at 40-40, but never added to his eight points and four rebounds after that as UK did not trail again. One reason the Tide hung around as long as it did was that the Cats were just 27-for-39 at the free throw line, but in the end those trips added up to a Kentucky win despite five fewer field goals. Having Dazon Ingram foul out only made things worse in the last minutes.
What was the best part of the game?: Getting points from all parts of the roster. Braxton Key’s 11 points was very near his season average but he had a miserable 4-for-15 shooting day to get there. But for once, multiple teammates were there to pick up the slack. Seven players scored seven or more points, including all five starters. After an inconsistent season where anyone could play well, but no one knew who would on a given night, it was heartening to see a game where everyone was dialed in at the same time, especially during the third game in less than 48 hours.
Who was the star?: Ingram matched his stat line from Thursday’s win against Mississippi State with 17 points, four rebounds and two assists. It will be fascinating to watch his development next season when he will called on to become more of a pure point guard with Collin Sexton and John Petty coming in to shoulder the scoring load, but his ability to drive for points and fight for rebounds gives him a very bright future, and another strong showing against the league’s best team can only help his confidence.
What’s next?: Alabama learns whether it has done enough to secure at least one more home game when the NIT bracket is released Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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