Picked in the preseason to win the SEC regular season title, Kentucky has now dropped to 1-2 in conference play and 10-5 overall, falling outside of the Top 25 rankings.
Against the Crimson Tide, the Kentucky offense hit a new low in the first half as the team’s top three scorers - Oscar Tshiebwe, Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin were scoreless in a combined 0-for-10 effort from the field as Alabama led 35-24 at the half.
Sahvir Wheeler and Antonio Reeves led the Wildcats in scoring in a losing effort.
This was a brutal beatdown on the road and raises even more questions about Kentucky’s offensive woes and lack of fight in conference play. Here are the four things you need to know from watching a brutal loss in Tuscaloosa.
Bad Start, Bad Finish
Once again, the Kentucky offense sputtered and scored just 13 points over the game’s first 10 minutes as the Wildcats have yet to find solutions to slow starts. The Wildcats opened the game 1-for-8 from the floor and trailed 11-2 early as Sahvir Wheeler and Antonio Reeves would ultimately combine for 15 of Kentucky’s first 19 points.
To make matters worse, Wallace picked up his second foul at the first TV timeout and missed the final 15 minutes of the first half. Kentucky simple got manhandled in the second half and was never able to get back into the game.
Tshiebwe has arguably worst game as a Wildcat
As the returning National Player of the Year, Tshiebwe has been the heart of a soul of this Kentucky team and currently lead the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounds. However, he had his worst game as a Wildcat against a much bigger Alabama interior and frequently got lost in ball screens, spending much of the first half on the bench facing the ire of UK Coach John Calipari. He also had issues on the offensive end against Alabama’s Charles Bediako, a 7-footer with a massive wingspan.
Tshiebwe, who scored his first two points with just over 11 minutes left in the game, will have to get better defensively to stay on the floor against the SEC’s top post players. He also needs to hit the reset button and find ways to get easy buckets on the offensive end.
Wheeler, Reeves provide lone bright spot
For all the criticism Sahvir Wheeler gets about his perimeter shooter, the Georgia transfer has proved time and time again that he’s the anchor of the Kentucky offense. His ability to bail the Wildcats out at the end of shot clock situations is both frustrating, and refreshing, as he always seems to pull a rabbit out of his hat to get points on the board. He is also a steady ball handler and is among the nation’s leaders in assists.
Reeves also hit some big shots in the first half and need to be on the floor once he makes some adjustments defensively. Hopefully, the return of Fredrick will also give the offense a boost in conference play. Right now, it seems that every Kentucky basket is a tough one so the Wildcats have to find some offensive sets to get easy baskets that build confidence, especially early in games.
Toppin exits game with shoulder injury
After declaring a tighter rotation would be coming in SEC play, Calipari played several reserves on Saturday in hopes of finding some momentum. Of course, Reeves provided a spark as the first player off the bench and hit some key shots in the first half to keep the game close. Adou Thiero, Ugonna Onyenso and Daimion Collins also played key minutes.
The good news is that CJ Fredrick, out with a dislocated finger, is expected to return to the rotation soon. The bad news is that Toppin left the game with a shoulder injury at the 6:00 mark and did not return.
Although Toppin struggled to score, he did a solid job on the defensive end against Alabama’s standout Brandon Miller and was outstanding the past two games, scoring at will against both Louisville and LSU. Kentucky needs a healthy Jacob Toppin to right the ship.
Kentucky now gets ready to host South Carolina on Tuesday night before heading to Knoxville to take on the No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers.