By Chris DePew
Feb. 17, 2018
Alabama met its match defensively as Kentucky shut down the paint for long stretches of time, whipped the Crimson Tide on the glass and forced 13 turnovers en route to an 81-71 Wildcats victory at Rupp Arena.
What did we learn today?: The best bet for stopping Alabama is still to have a big, physical team that can bully the Tide into abandoning what it does best. Bama has never been a strong team from the perimeter and the Cats are one of the very best teams in America at defending perimeter. And yet the Tide chucked it up from 3-point range with abandon, particularly before halftime. Twenty-six attempts later, Alabama had just six 3-pointers to its credit and another road loss in the books. Its two star freshmen were the biggest offenders. John Petty was 3-for-10 from long-range and Collin Sexton missed all four of his attempts as part of a 4-for-11 day. Even during a four-game losing streak Kentucky never lacked for energy or defensive intensity, and on Saturday the desperate Wildcats did everything in their power to defend the rim and cut off access to the paint.
What were the biggest concerns?: Second chances were almost impossible to find thanks to Bama’s shoddy rebounding. The Wildcats outrebounded the Crimson Tide 44-27 and 20-8 on the offensive glass, with Donta Hall the only player to get more than four boards. Four different Kentucky players exceeded that total. The lead changed hands for much of the afternoon and Bama was in it until late, but has happened way too often in SEC play, the Tide got panicked and went away from its game plan. Saturday that meant four turnovers in the closing minutes after playing an exceptionally clean half to that point. It also meant going back to forcing jump shots and speculative 3-pointers instead of feeding Hall.
Long-term, the biggest concern leaving Lexington is the health of Hall and Sexton. Hall noticeably struggled with his surgically repaired wrist most of the game after appearing to hurt it while blocking a shot in the early minutes. Not long afterwards, Sexton earned a trip to the locker room to get his chin bandaged after a hard spill on the floor opened up a cut. If both are OK for the last two weeks of the regular season, this loss can be chalked up as disappointing but an entirely understandable part of life in a rugged league.
What was the best part of the game?: Out of Alabama’s five freshmen, few would have expected Alex Reese would have emerged with the career-best day at Rupp. With Hall and Braxton Key in foul trouble and Daniel Giddens having another witness protection game, Reese made the most of his 10 minutes in the first half. He sank a pair of 3-pointers and matched his career high with 10 points. Strangely Bama went away from him after halftime but he did grab a couple more rebounds to finish with four. His unique combination of size and fearless outside shooting gives Avery Johnson an intriguing piece to build on for future seasons.
Who was the star?: Once his teammates started feeding him the ball regularly, Hall lit up the Wildcats for several minutes in the second half as Alabama regained the lead. He made seven of his eight attempts from the floor, including a 15-foot jumper from the side and a ridiculous windmill dunk that began with a one-handed catch of a Petty pass that looked like it was flying off course. He could have possibly improved on his 16 points and six rebounds, but on a day where he wasn’t feeling his best it is hard to ask for more.
What’s next?: There are hostile road environments and then there is Auburn Arena when the Tide comes rolling in. That’s the next challenge for Bama as the league-leading Tigers seek revenge Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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