By Ashley Scoby
Kentucky and Alabama played 40 minutes of basketball on Saturday night in Rupp Arena. But it really only took about 10 for the Wildcats to assert their dominance.
Before rolling to a 70-55 win over the Crimson Tide, Kentucky put together a 10-minute stretch during the first half that might as well have been the deciding factor.
By the 10:19 mark of the first half, when Tyler Ulis sank a three-pointer to make it 20-7 in Kentucky’s favor, the Wildcats had forced seven Alabama turnovers while allowing two field goals.
After that initial 9:41, Alabama only turned the ball over six more times for the rest of the game, but the damage had been done. It doesn’t take long for this Kentucky team to all-but-finalize a result.
With such an impressive early stretch, Kentucky could basically sink back onto its heels for the rest of the game. After the 8:50 mark of the first half, Kentucky’s lead never dipped below 12 points.
Although Alabama shot 46 percent from the field – which is positively blistering against arguably the best defensive team in college basketball – Kentucky had its own offensive success. The Wildcats shot a season-best 58.5 percent, led by their post play.
Willie Cauley-Stein (4-for-4) and Karl-Anthony Towns (4-for-4) were perfect from the field and contributed 12 points each. Marcus Lee also went 4-for-5 for eight points.
“We’re an efficient team,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. “That’s how we play. The issue, for us, has been our post play. Our post play was good which is why we shot over 50 percent. Now it opens up everything else.”
With a 13-point lead holding over from halftime, Kentucky moved away from the paint and extended its lead via the three-point arc.
Devin Booker, who finished with 11 points off 4-of-6 shooting, swished a trey at the 17:33 mark, then another with 15:45 to play. Aaron Harrison did the same just more than a minute later to give Kentucky its biggest lead of the day at 52-31.
“They had an answer for what we threw at them today defensively,” said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant. “They shot the ball really well. When a team’s shooting like that, and scoring inside and out like that, they’re always going to be tough to beat.”
The Wildcats combined their 28 points in the paint with a 7-of-15 shooting performance from behind the three-point line – the kind of offensive balance that has sometimes been lacking on a defensively-focused team.
Four Kentucky players scored in double-figures Saturday: Cauley-Stein and Towns with their 12 each, Booker with 11 and Harrison with 10. Eight players scored at least five points, and four had at least two assists. Of the Wildcats’ 24 made field goals, 14 of them were assisted.
And although Kentucky played without Trey Lyles (who sat out due to illness), Saturday’s game was an echo of what has happened throughout the whole season: Someone always steps up. Sometimes several someones.
“Sometimes our front court is going to be really great one game; sometimes our backcourt is going to be really great,” Lee said. “It’s just whatever happens in the game.”
Alabama did out-rebound Kentucky, 26-21, including 14-10 in the first half – virtually the only stat that could be considered in the Crimson Tide’s favor on Saturday.
“I guess we must have been doing something right,” Towns said. “We were making a lot of shots. There’s not much to go get. We did a lot of great things. … It doesn’t hurt that we came out with a W with the amount of rebounds we had today.”
Kentucky also took the W on top of good news from the night: Fellow 20-0 team Virginia lost to Duke, thus making Kentucky the only undefeated team left in Division I men’s college basketball at 21-0. It’s also the third-best start to a season in program history. Only the 1954 team finished without a loss.
“We’re just happy that we’re continuing to win,” Towns said. “Undefeated or not, we still have to keep winning games, but for us most importantly is what happens later in the year.”
Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com andkysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York this June.
Courtesy of KyForward