Turnovers and poor shooting doomed the Kentucky Hoops team in its first loss of the season earlier this week against Auburn and it appeared that the same would happen against the Alabama Crimson Tide, at least early in the game.
Six turnovers and 4-of-13 shooting in the first quarter kept the game close but Kentucky managed to limp to a 15-9 lead.
Three baskets in the opening minutes of the second quarter allowed Kentucky to put some breathing room between themselves and the visitors; both teams continued to struggle shooting the ball and Kentucky went into the locker room with a 29-19 lead.
The third quarter was a back and forth affair until after the 4:34 mark when Kentucky finally started found their shooting legs and went on an 11-3 run that put the game out of reach at 51-33.
Kentucky went on to the win the game 73-48 behind a stellar night from Evelyn Akhator. The junior college transfer finished the game with 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
With the victory, Kentucky notched its first SEC win of the season and 12th overall.
The Bigs Get It Done
So far during the SEC campaign, Kentucky’s frontcourt has been outstanding. Of course, as previously mentioned, Evelyn Akhator had a monster game but her partner in crime, Alexis Jennings, played a fantastic 27 minutes.
The junior forward, who battled foul trouble during the game, scored 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting but was a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line. Jennings also secured ten rebounds and recorded her second straight double-double.
Substitutes Batouly Camara and Alyssa Rice combined for six points and nine rebounds in limited action off of the bench.
The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 45-30 and the front court was the reason why. No UK forward grabbed fewer than four rebounds; a stat that has to make head coach Matthew Mitchell happy. If the unit is able to keep rebounding like they did against the Crimson Tide then Kentucky will continue its winning ways.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Even in the loss at Auburn, Kentucky’s defense was rock solid and that trend carried over into the Alabama game. The Crimson Tide shot a woeful 30 percent from the field (17-of-56) and only hit 7-of-23 three pointers. They also turned the ball over 15 times.
This marked the second game in a row where Kentucky was able to force their opponent into turnovers and negate the perimeter as well. Matthew Mitchell said during the preseason that he thought it might take a while for this team to match the defensive prowess his program is known for. It appears that the team is ahead of schedule and that bodes well for a team looking to finish in the top four in the SEC.
UK’s first half struggles mirrored those of the Auburn game and were a frequent occurrence during the non-conference slate. If Kentucky can’t get going early during SEC play then the team will find themselves in close games with opponents that they should not, and against higher ranked foes, such as the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Wildcats might just find themselves in an insurmountable early hole.
Frontcourt Foul Trouble
This feels more like a nitpick than anything, but Camara and Jennings each finished the game with four fouls. For a team with such a short bench that is not acceptable and has occurred with alarming frequency. Foul trouble will eventually cost Kentucky a big game; one can only hope that it is not during the NCAA Tournament.