The Crimson Tide came into Rupp with their backs to the proverbial NCAA wall. A win at UK would most certainly punch their Big Dance ticket. Kentucky seemed to be in for a possible struggle with Derek Willis out and a game-time decision for Alex Poythress.
With those two question marks for Kentucky, it meant that John Calipari could insert Isaac Humphries into the starting lineup as a reward for his hard work at A&M and a chance for the Rupp Crowd to embrace him as he is likely still struggling with the College Station technical foul and blaming himself.
One of the funnier aspects of the night was in the pre-game warmup, Isaiah Briscoe decided to poke a little fun at his teammate by spiking the ball in the huddle. The bigger picture of this is the team becoming more tightly knit.
Kentucky started strong with a Jamal Murray backdoor cut for a dunk plus 1 on the free throw to start off fast and furious. The big story of the first half was the Kentucky defense; they continued their streak of stifling defense by holding the Tide to just 26% shooting in the first half.
Tyler Ulis scored 11 points (4 assists) and Jamal Murray added 8 to lead the cats to a 33-21 halftime lead. The game seemed to be taken over by UK late as they were up 33-17 until a very quick 4 points to end the half brought the Tide to within 12.
The scary thing for Alabama is that not only did they only score 21 points... 15 of those points were by one man: Retin Obasohan. Not to mention, Kentucky could have scored a few more times and then it would have really been ugly.
UK started back pretty strong with scores from Briscoe, Murray, and Poythress. Alabama did get into a little run (lead by Obasohan of course) and got the lead down to 10, but UK immediately scored 5 points and seemed to pull away from there.
Jamal Murray caught his obligatory 'he's on fire' stretch and he quickly went from a quiet 8 points at the half to 20+ in about 10 minutes of gameplay. He hit three free throws on a foul, then the next possession he got an and-1 and a dagger three from deep to put the 'Cats up by 19 and seemingly end any hopes for a Tide comeback.
The 'Cats would end up cruising to a 78-53 victory to improve to 21-7 (11-4).
WHAT WE LEARNED
- OUR DEFENSE IS UNDERRATED. We have held our last 12 SEC teams under 42% from the field, something that has not been done since the early 1950's. One of Coach Cal's most underrated features is his ability to coach Defense. Last season we had great defense due to length, and blocked shots. We do not have the shot blockers this year but we still have a top-10 defense. Defense wins championships.
- ALEX POYTHRESS IS A MUST. If Kentucky is to make a run at a championship (and they are one of a handful) then there are two people that must be their best versions, Derek Willis and Alex Poythress. Poythress came back from his injury and looked strong in his return. He has to be consistent and be a force and presence like he was tonight.
- AVERY JOHNSON IS A GOOD COACH. I like having him in the league, he is a damn good coach and he is going to have Alabama a top 3-4 team in the SEC sooner rather than later.
- RETIN OBASOHAN IS VERY GOOD. He killed us in Tuscaloosa and he rolled again tonight with a 30 point game. If College teams could trade players, he would make someone an instant National Title Favorite.
- MARCUS LEE IS INVIGORATED. After a disappearing act, Marcus Lee seems to have returned to that form of being a very good rebounder and being an even bigger factor in keeping offensive possessions alive. Multiple times he was able to either get an offensive rebound, or tip it to another guy to keep it alive.
- JAMAL MURRAY IS BECOMING LETHAL. He scored another 20+ points, his 7th straight, and he is much more settled in the offense and is not pushing the issue and seemingly trying to score 4 points on every trip. I think he is becoming a Jodie Meeks-esque offensive assassin.
- OUR FRONTCOURT IS CLEAR. It is pretty clear that at this point, our best options for the frontcourt are Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, and Isaac Humphries. I did not include Derek Willis only because he is a tweener with the Frontcourt and Backcourt and he is a given.