Kentucky came to Tuscaloosa after what had to be the longest three days of the season. The 'Cats got embarrassed in Baton Rouge and Coach Cal put them through the wringer all week to let them know he was not happy.
If the 'Cats could win at Alabama they would be set up nicely to win the next five and be in great shape for the tougher part of the conference schedule.
The first half saw Kentucky come out with a ton of energy and a clear purpose, basically the antithesis of 4 nights before. Jamal Murray and Alex Poythress particularly, as they combined to score the first 26 points for UK. Tyler Ulis would hit a jumper with 3:54 remaining in the half to be the first guy not named Murray or Poythress to score.
Kentucky was strong on the boards and everyone seemed to contribute, although the points were heavily attributed to the Poy-Murray dynamic duo.
Kentucky would impose its will on the Crimson Tide for most of the half and even pushed the lead to 16 at one point. Ulis and Poythress had a string of pretty pick and roll plays that resulted in a few jumpers and a typical rim-rocker from Alex. However, a 6-0 run to end the half would bring the crowd and the players back into the game. Kentucky took a 38-28 lead to halftime with 31 of those points from Murray and Poythress collectively.
HALFTIME BOX... pic.twitter.com/NTxXGSC7ee— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) January 9, 2016
The 2nd half began with Alabama continuing their run by nailing a three-pointer to bring it to a 7-point deficit. Murray picked up a quick third foul and was not much of a factor to begin the half but Poythress continued a potential career game by scoring six points in the first 8 minutes of the half to keep Bama at bay.
In a twist nobody saw coming, Isaiah Briscoe became a jump shooter for a minute, first hitting a three that did not count because of a foul, but then hitting a turnaround fade away from 17 feet, and another 18 footer with confidence. He would throw in an and-1 to round out his production to help keep the lead to 6-10 points.
Much like the first half, the 'Cats simply imposed their will on Alabama and eventually stretched out the lead. Briscoe and Poythress lead the way in the 2nd half, along with Ulis to help Kentucky pull away and win by a comfortable 16-point margin.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
- ALEX POYTHRESS: What an enigma he is; he goes beast to beat Louisville, then goes ghost in Baton Rouge, only to come back and trump any game he has had in a UK uniform in Tuscaloosa. This is Alex's third FULL season, and guess what folks, zebras do not change their stripes. This is what we have in Alex; he is a Jekyll and Hyde player, plain and simple. But the night was certainly all about him as he had a career-high 25 points on 8-10 shooting. This kind of Alex is the difference in a Final Four run or a second round disappointment.
- SKAL LABISSIERE: You gotta give him credit for his mindset tonight; he came in with a chip on his shoulder, made a few good plays and did NOT back down. His night got derailed early when he picked up fouls #2 and #3 in the first half with one of them being a WEAK technical foul. He is a project, and we can only hope he gets there by March.
- ISAIAH BRISCOE: This could be the game that turns his season around; out of the blue he seemed to flip a switch and got confidence. He hit a few jumpers, took some and-1s in the lane and played fantastic defense. IF this team can get him shooting at even a 33% clip from outside it could be scary.
- JAMAL MURRAY: Murray was on pace for a monster night before some foul trouble and Avery Johnson adjusting his defense slowed him down. He still had a good night and it was good to see him let the game come to him instead of forcing the issue.
- MARCUS LEE: Lee struggled a bit offensively and big time at the free throw line per usual, but he was a beast on the boards and continued his norm of being our most important player. The quiet producer and beast on the boards to go with being a disruptor on defense.
- TYLER ULIS: Ulis struggled to score like had the prior three games (20+ points in each) but he did not need to score and the mark of a great point guard is knowing what he needs to do to help the team. With Murray and Poythress lighting it up, he played defense, dished dimes out and lead the team with his normal stoic mentality.
- MYCHAL MULDER: Mulder is slowly getting more and more clock and I like it. He is a shooter and hit another three tonight as well as played well all around. He missed a few opportunities but it will come. I think Mulder could be a significant X-factor down the road.