By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
It took Alabama six years to beat Kentucky. The Crimson Tide did just that Saturday in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
The 13-ranked Wildcats (10-3) had a 10-game winning streak to Alabama snapped following a 77-75 setback as the Crimson Tide extended their winning streak to five games. Kentucky had a modest three-game winning streak come to an end.
“We didn’t deserve to win the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We didn’t have any business winning that game. We just sort of clawed and gave ourselves a chance.”
Alabama coach Avery Johnson said the win — his first over the Wildcats — was a long time coming. Former Kentucky standout John Pelphrey serves as an associate head coach to Johnson.
“We talked about it a lot (beating Kentucky) behind the scenes and we didn’t let you all in on it,” Johnson said. “We needed to beat Kentucky … We didn’t win the championship, but this was huge for our program.”
Kentucky trailed by double digits at 72-61 with two minutes remaining, but railed and narrowed the margin to 76-75 with four seconds remaining, The Crimson Tide (10-3) made one of two free throws, giving the Wildcats a chance to tie or take the lead. Out of timeouts, the Wildcats settled for a 3-pointer and Tyler Herro’s trey bounced off the back of the iron at the buzzer.
“We need to play that way for all 40 minutes,” Kentucky forward PJ Washington said. “We need to know the game plan and focus on what we need to do to get wins.”
Washington paced five players — all starters — in double figures for the Wildcats. Washington scored 15 points, followed by Keldon Johnson with 13. Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, and Reid Travis scored 12 points each. Travis paced the Wildcats with 10 points in the first half, followed by Hagans and Johnson with eight points apiece.
Kentucky led by five in the first half and had a 40-38 advantage at the break, but failed to find the basket in the final 20 minutes, especially early in the second half. Overall, the Wildcats made just 13 of 35 shots, including a 3-12 clip from the 3-point line. Kentucky led for just 10 minutes in a contest that featured nine ties and 10 lead changes.
Tevin Mack led Alabama with 22 points. Mack connected on six of his team’s 10 shots from behind the arc, all coming in the opening half. Dazon Ingram scored 11 points, all in the second half.
Kentucky, which bounced back from an overtime loss to Seton Hall last month with wins over Utah, North Carolina, and Louisville, struggled to keep the momentum alive. The hosts outrebounded the Wildcats 40-32.
“We need to crack down on the boards and not let them get second-chance points and just continue to fight,” Washington said. “Every game is going to be a war.”
Gametracker: Texas A&M at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.