Bama starts hot, can’t keep up as Wildcats get key win

Kellan Grady made seven 3s for a season-high 25 points, Oscar Tshiebwe added 21 points with 14 rebounds

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kellan Grady made seven 3s for a season-high 25 points, Oscar Tshiebwe added 21 points with 14 rebounds and No. 4 Kentucky rallied twice to top No. 25 Alabama 90-81 on Saturday (b0x score 1991901).

Short-handed because of injuries to starting guards TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler, the Wildcats (22-5, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) trailed 46-34 with 3½ minutes remaining before halftime before closing with 13 straight points for their first lead. Grady’s 3-pointer capped the run that draw a thunderous roar in Rupp Arena.

The Crimson Tide (17-10, 7-7) erased a 54-48 deficit early in the second with eight points in a row to go up by two before Kentucky responded with a 20-2 surge over 5:47 to seize control at 74-58.

Consecutive 3s by Jaden Shackelford and Keon Ellis, who had a season-high 28 points, sparked a rebound that eventually got the Crimson Tide within 80-73 with 4:53 left, but Grady sank another 3 and Davion Mintz added a jumper for a double-digit cushion.

Keion Brooks Jr. leaped high for a huge putback dunk with 57 seconds left to finish with 18 points to seal the outcome as Kentucky regrouped from Tuesday night’s 76-63 loss at No. 16 Tennessee.

Grady was 9 of 16 overall from the field for his career best with Kentucky. Tshiebwe was 9 of 13 as the Wildcats shot 53% to seize a game of runs.

Shackelford had 18 points and Noah Gurley 12 for the Crimson Tide.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama jumped on the depleted Wildcats with red-hot shooting from deep before going cold late in the first half to fall behind. The Crimson Tide briefly found their stroke to lead in the second and attempt a rally, but their reliance on the long ball ultimately cost them a chance for a big win.

Kentucky: Missing Washington and Wheeler put the Wildcats at a disadvantage on both ends of the floor. Grady kept them in it before he got hot in the second half, and others chipped in a way few could have imagined.

On Saturday against Alabama, Kentucky was in need of a lift. The Cats were coming off a loss at Tennessee on Tuesday, were playing without starting guards TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler and found themselves trailing 25th-ranked Alabama by double digits in the first half of a game that was seen nationally on CBS.

That’s when the sometimes-maligned Rupp Arena crowd stepped up. The 20,374 in attendance, almost all wearing blue, got behind their team and seemed to give the Cats a much-needed boost.

Behind an assist from the loud crowd, Kentucky went on 13-0 run to turn a 12-point deficit into a 47-46 lead with 42 seconds left in the first half. With each point of the run, the Rupp Arena crowd grew even louder.

As the streak culminated on a corner three from Kellan Grady, the roof nearly came off the venerable downtown facility as the Cats climbed out of a hole and into the lead. Grady knew that the arena was loud, but he didn’t realize how loud it was until consulting with a teammate after the game.

“Keion (Brooks) told me that was the loudest he’s ever heard Rupp Arena,” Grady said. “So, credit to our fans, that really helped spark our run. It started when we were on defense where we needed some pivotal stops and their energy and their enthusiasm. I think it was a little extra pep in our step and we were able to convert on offense and it changed the whole dynamic of the game.”

In the second half, Kentucky put the game away with a 20-2 run, once again with help from a boisterous Rupp Arena audience. The Cats took a close game and seemed to put it away with that big run, which gave UK a 74-58 lead with 10:50 to play.

But Alabama would not go away quietly. The Tide kept chipping away at the UK lead, eventually getting within seven, 80-73, with 4:53 to play.

That’s when the Rupp crowd stepped up again, urging the Cats to fight to hang onto the lead, which they did. UK got a three from Grady and a basket from Mintz to stretch the advantage to 12 with 3:27 left in the game.

UK head coach John Calipari was very happy with the crowd’s contributions to Saturday’s victory.

“Let me thank the fans. Wow! Unbelievable environment,” Calipari said. “When we were dying, they never started booing. They don’t boo, they were cheering us on. When we made that run at the end of the half, the last four minutes, the way we guarded, they cheered on the guard, the rebound, how we defended. That’s what our fans — they know what to cheer. They know what to push the buttons. Greatest fans. I love these fans.”

While the Rupp Arena crowd is sometimes criticized for not being loud enough, that was certainly not the case on Saturday. In fact, the crowd played a huge role as the undermanned Cats won in a tough situation.

Coach John Calipari

On how proud his must be of his team to be shorthanded and to perform the way they did.

JOHN CALIPARI: I was, I didn’t know what to expect. We had two days, and I apologize to everybody out there that I shut down practice to scouts and everybody because we needed two days to get ready with – how the hell are we going to play? What do we do? Who are the subs? Do we sub? Do I use my timeouts, which I’ve done in the past, to give them rests. That’s what I did today and said, look, we’re riding this group.

Low turnovers. The big guys got turnovers, the guards, Kellan had two. Davion played that whole game. I was yelling at the staff because they were saying ‘you’ve got to get Kellan out, he’s exhausted. You’ve got to get Kellan (Grady) out. He’s exhausted, and then he bangs a three. You want me to take him out? You want him out?

If anybody was close enough to the bench saying, he yells at everybody, yeah, I yell at everybody. The only person I can’t yell at is the princess. She won’t take it. She’s like, no, not happening.

  1. Last week you said you could account for one of Tyty (Washington Jr.) or Sahvir (Wheeler) being out but not both of them. What does that say about this team’s potential long-term?

JOHN CALIPARI: Like I told them after, we’ve got great depth. Just so you know, we had prepared for both Kellan, Davion to be point guards, because we’ve done it in practice. Davion (Mintz) more so than Kellan.

Now, the reason I started with Kellan on the baseline is I wanted (Alabama’s Jahvon) Quinerly off the ball. I did not want him to guard the ball. I wanted somebody else to guard the ball. So, we had two point guards, so whoever Quinerly was guarding we put in the grinder.

They made all those three early, and I kept telling the guys, look, you think they’re going to make 30 today? Just play. We gave up offensive rebounds, we had late-shot threes, but we hung around.

This is a — I keep saying, I like my team. There are good teams out there, but I’m taking this one.

  1. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy who’s as good a shooter as Kellan be so deferential at times. Was today particularly big for him because it put it squarely on his shoulders that you’ve got to shoot, you’ve got to score for us today?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, there’s two things that happened today. We had to go through Oscar (Tshiebwe). We had to. I told Oscar, I don’t care if the guy is 7’8″, you’ve got to get baskets and get fouled. The second thing I told the guys and I told them at the shootaround, you’ve got to make shots.

I jumped Jacob (Toppin) today at the shootaround. I normally don’t do that at shootaround. Tom was there, so Tom knows what — because he was like 2 for 11. You can’t go through a shootaround and go 2 for 11 because now your mentality is you’re not making shots in the game.

So after, he started making shots, and what did he do today? Made shots, made free throws, and I told him, you’re going to have to make some jumpers. I didn’t say threes. I didn’t say threes. But if you have them, I was happy to see Keion make a three. But that’s not who he is. He’s a mid-range two-point shooter, and you know what, one of the best in the country.

What he did today, he started and got absolutely pushed — it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good. But the way he played in the second half, that’s who he is. And that’s all I’m going to accept.

Now, the greatest thing for him, he knows now I can start slow and I can sit down for a minute and get myself in the right frame of mind, and I keep telling these guys, you can’t listen to the poison. You can’t listen to it, wherever it’s coming from. Just stay focused on each other.

  1. There were times early you said that you’re established, people saw what we did at Kansas, people saw what we did to Tennessee here. Does this game move to the top of that list?

JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know. I mean, doing what we did at Kansas, that was done before at Kansas. I think it was 1942. So, I would tell you what we did there was pretty big. What we did to Tennessee when you see how good they are, like they’re really, really good, and what we did here — but this game was doing a different thing. Now you’re shorthanded, and guys have to step up.

I showed the guys a tape that was done of Nick Saban, Coach Saban, talking about being ready for your opportunity. Part of it was you’re worried about the results. You’re results-oriented. I need more shots, I need more minutes, I’ve got to get this, versus I’m going to be the best and train myself to be the best at the position I have. So when you do get a chance, you’re ready to go.

Like we got some guys that haven’t played. I thought Davion did good again. He did. Or Daimion (Collins), I mean, did good again. I’m not afraid to play him.

I thought Lance (Ware) did good when we had to put him at four because we were getting manhandled at that position. But those guys are ready to step in and help, and they were all happy after the game. The whole locker room, they were happy with each other.

Sahvir and Tyty, I thanked them because they couldn’t play, and those two want to play. They may be out another couple games. I need them healthy before March. We don’t need them to play hurt. If we can’t win a game because they’re not there, then we don’t win the game. If this group chooses to play to win, we’ll have a chance, but it’s hard, and Alabama is a good team.

They made 14 threes and lost. I don’t know if you just heard what I said. We have our guards out and we have seven turnovers.

  1. When you’re at full strength you’re pretty scary. Does this give you confidence that you can make a run, a deep run if you’re shorthanded?

JOHN CALIPARI: Here’s what I would say. Again, because I’ve done this a long time and I’ve been in a lot of these one-game-and-you’re-out deals, if you’re playing with a short roster, you’ve got to be really lucky, that you’re not going to have guys in foul trouble, that you’re not going to get somebody hurt.

But if you have a deep roster, even if you choose not to play them all but you know they’re there, and what you’re going to try to do with a deep roster is get everybody in in the first half and then shorten the rotation to win the game in the second half.

The more players on your roster that can help you, the more room for error. Stuff goes wrong and you’re okay.

I’ve had both. I’ve had my one UMass team I played five guys 37 minutes each, and we were fine and we made it to the game against Kentucky who had 11 NBA players we had to go against, but that game in the semifinal.

But you can do it, but I’m saying, very dangerous. Dangerous if you’re playing five, six guys.

  1. Can you say why you decided to keep Sahvir and Tyty on the sideline? Is it an injury, illness, something else?

JOHN CALIPARI: They’re both injured. I mean, they’re both injured. It’s one of those — we just don’t need nagging, so if they’ve got to take another week off, take a week off.

  1. I wonder, too, there was a time where Jacob went down and was holding his face. With all of the nicks and knocks you guys have had, what goes through your mind when you see another guy down?

JOHN CALIPARI: He got hit in the face, it was a foul. That was what I thought. And then somebody said Pat and I went nose-to-nose. I like Pat; he’s a good guy. He charged me, but I’m good.

  1. Who do you think turned the game around in the first half when you went 10 in a row? What do you think turned the team around?

JOHN CALIPARI: I thought Keion, his aggressive defense and rebounding changed the game for us at that point. Instead of them getting rebounds and baskets where they just drive and shoot a layup, all of a sudden the threes they were making which were guarded, they’re not making now.

Then we offensively — I kept telling the staff, stop talking about the offense, we’re fine. We played the game a little different today. If you could imagine, we had two practices to put a game plan together that was different than we normally would play. We ground it out. That’s how we played today. And still scored 91 points.

But I felt that’s how we were going to have to play with a short roster.

  1. After games like this do you feel that your team is learning to play winning basketball on both ends?

JOHN CALIPARI: Yes. Yeah, well, we made two plays. We tried to post Oscar 12 feet off the block, and there was one other play that I said — oh, Kellan in front of our bench like putting the ball down where they could get it. You just don’t do those things. Those are not smart basketball plays. What if it was a four-point game? We could have lost the game. What if there were fouls that they would get with that, two shots?

But the way we played and used the clock and created shots — look, and you can say what you want, well, you banked two in. Do you know how many shots are banked in against us? Like it’s incredible. Guys from half court bank them in. So when we banked one in, I said, finally we get one to bank in. But they’re getting better. They’re learning how to win. It’s a good group — I’m telling you, every day I go to practice I enjoy myself.

  1. You’ve mentioned on occasion that Kellan kind of played the role he had today during his time at Davidson. Is that kind of what you leaned on a little bit when he had to be that lead guard at times?

JOHN CALIPARI: I teased him and I said, you played point guard against us your freshman year at Davidson when we played you, I think, in San Antonio, and he said, a little bit, but my senior year I played point guard. I’m not sure he’s telling me the truth, but I think he’s the kind of guard we’ve had here, the Tyrese Maxey, the Immanuel Quickleys, the Shai Alexanders, Jamal Murrays, Brandon Knights, they’re basketball players. They can play on the ball and off the ball.

What I kept saying, that’s where the game is going. Harden now is in Philly; do you think that Tyrese is going to have the ball in his hands all the time? He’s not. But you know what? He can play the other way. He’ll go get 40 points because he can play off the ball because that’s what he learned.

I’m not coming there unless the ball is in my hand the whole time. We don’t play that. Learn to be a basketball player. Learn to play on the ball, off the ball, in pick-and-rolls, learn to lift and drive, made baskets late in the shot clock.

He’s done good. I’m happy that he kind of — wow, I didn’t know he was that much at the three-point line. How about he gets two turnovers? What’s wrong with this kid?

  1. You talked about how well your team focuses on the game plan and what you want done. Is this the best example yet of that, what they were able to do today?

JOHN CALIPARI: Not early. Not early. We went under some dribble handoffs. We had some miscommunication on simple dribble handoffs, like big-to-guard, things we didn’t do, and all we said is you’ve got to settle in defensively.

I said, we’re playing well offensively, we’re playing well enough to win. But you can’t just keep giving them open shots. It’s their game. They took 40. I know there’s people that want me to coach that way. I’m fine. Nate (Oats) is an unbelievable coach, does a great job, has turned that thing into a monster. There’s all kind of ways of doing this.

I’ve done this for a lot of years, and I’ve changed and tweaked and brought in the dribble drive and then talked positionless basketball and played three point guards different times and had some three-point shooting teams, but 30 percent of the shots will be threes for us. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.

But when you look at Bill Self, pretty good coach. His numbers are about the same. 28, 30 percent. Wow, we should take 60 percent should be threes and play all guards — come on, man, we’re Kentucky. What are we playing for, Larry? We’re playing for March, to put ourselves in a position to win national titles. That’s what we do here.

Let me thank the fans. Wow! Unbelievable environment. When we were dying, they never started booing. They don’t boo, they were cheering us on. When we made that run at the end of the half, the last four minutes, the way we guarded, they cheered on the guard, the rebound, how we defended. That’s what our fans — they know what to cheer. They know what to push the buttons. Greatest fans. I love these fans.

I’m telling you again, they’ll go back and they’ll watch this tape three times. I’ll watch it once. You won’t believe this, I’ll watch the game being played. When I watch the tape, there’s some things I’m trying to look at to make sure I was either right or wrong. There’s some things I may have gotten on a player about; I want to make sure I’m right in what I did, and if I’m wrong, I apologize and I tell him, I was wrong, here’s what happened in that play. They know. They don’t have to get upset with me if I’m wrong; they know he’s going to go see it on a tape and he’ll.

But I know our fans are going to watch it three and four times. I say, have fun and cheer again and pause it. I wonder if this one goes in. You already watched it three times, you know it’s going in.

But that’s what makes this a unique place, the fans. And the fans I keep coming back to, they’re not moved. This is about this program. When the next coach is here, they’ll be about this program and about these kids. That’s what these — Coach Rupp started this. The rest of us rent the seat.

Again, let me thank the fans. Guys, I’ve got to go out and do this radio show. It’s 9:00 at night. I’d like to get home tonight, see my wife. I’ve got some friends in. But I appreciate it. Thanks, guys.

Final Score: No. 4/3 Kentucky 90, No. 25/RV Alabama 81 

Team Records, Series Notes, Etc.

  • Kentucky is now 22-5 overall, 11-3 in the SEC.
  • Alabama ends a three-game win streak today and is 17-10 overall, 7-7 in the SEC. The Crimson Tide’s last two losses have been against Kentucky, Feb. 5 and today.
  • UK leads the series, 116-40, including 59-11 in games played in Lexington.
    • Kentucky won both meetings during the regular season, also 66-55 in Tuscaloosa.
  • Next for UK: the Wildcats play host to LSU on Wednesday for the 9 p.m. game on ESPN.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky has won 17 in a row in Rupp Arena, including 16-0 this season.
  • This was the seventh game this season that UK scored at least 90 points, most since the 2016-17 team did it 14 times.
  • Kentucky shot 53.2% from the field and UK is 12-1 this season when making at least 50%.
  • Kentucky made 9 of 14 on 3-pointers, a season-high 64.3 percent and the fifth-highest of the Calipari era.
  • Kentucky won the rebounding 39-32 and is 18-2 this season when winning the boardwork.
  • Trailing 41-28 in the first half, UK went on runs of 15-0 and 20-2 en route to a total run of 46-17, flipping the Wildcats to a 74-58 lead, its largest of the game at 16 points.
    • UK is 307-13 (95.9%) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest.
  • Alabama made 9 of its first 12 3-pointers, then only 1 of its next 19. The Tide finished 14 of 40 from long range.
  • Grady is the fifth Wildcat to score 25 or more points in a game this season.
  • Missing Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington Jr. today because of injury, Kentucky has been at full strength for only 12 complete games this season.

Player Notes  

  • Kellan Grady had a career-high-tying seven 3-pointers en route to a season-high 25 points.
    • Over the last 18 games, he is averaging 13.9 points per game while shooting 47.1 percent (64 of 136) from 3-point range.
    • Has made a 3-pointer in 21 straight games, most since Jamal Murray made a 3 in all 36 games of the 2015-16 season.
    • He has made at least two 3-pointers in nine straight games.
    • Although he played 39:07 today, it is the first time in 10 games that UK’s “Steady Eddie” has not led the team in minutes played.
    • He moved into the all-time collegiate top-150 scorers today. He now ranks No. 135 in Division I history with 2,335 career points.
    • With seven 3-pointers in today’s win, Grady has made 82 3-pointers on the season which is tied with James Young and Patrick Sparks for the ninth most in a single season at Kentucky.
  • Oscar Tshiebwe marshaled 21 points and 14 rebounds while tying his career high with three assists.
    • It is his ninth-straight double-double, first Wildcat to do that since Jim Andrews had 10 consecutive double-doubles in the 1972-73 season.
    • It is his 21st double-double of the season, ranking second in the nation in that category.
      • He is tied for fourth with Andrews in the UK single-season record books for double-doubles in a season.
    • The nation’s leading rebounder has 13 straight games with double-figure rebounds and grabbed double-figure boards in all but two games this season.
    • It is his team-leading ninth 20-point game of the season.
  • Keion Brooks Jr. scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds while tying his career best for minutes played with 37.
    • He is averaging 14 points over the last eight games, seven of which are UK wins.
    • It is his 14th double-figure scoring game of the season.
    • He has earned two or more steals in three straight games.
  • Starting for the second time this season, Jacob Toppin had 13 points and six rebounds.
    • He has scored in double figures in the last three games he has played, first time he has done that in his career.
    • He led the team in minutes today, playing a career-high 39:24.
  • Making his third start of the season, Davion Mintz assembled seven points, two assists and a career-high three steals.
  • Daimion Collins played only four minutes, but made them count with six points and four boards.
  • Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington Jr. did not play today because of injuries.

Coach John Calipari

  • Calipari is now 361-98 at UK.
    • UK is 67-42 against Associated Press ranked competition under Calipari.
  • Calipari has an 806-238 all-time on-court record.
    • He moved into a tie for 12th with Eddie Suttor for the most all-time on-court victories in Division I history.
  • Calipari has tallied a 378-119 all-time record within conference play as a head coach and owns a 170-53 record since joining the SEC.
  • Calipari is 19-6 vs. Alabama.

In the First Half

  • The starting lineup was Davion Mintz, Kellan Grady, Jacob Toppin, Keion Brooks Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe for the first time this season.
  • Bryce Hopkins was the first Kentucky substitution at the 12:39 mark, second time this season that he has been first off the bench.
  • Alabama scored on its first seven possessions, including three 3-pointers, and led 17-9 at the first television timeout.
  • By the 14:00 mark, Alabama had made four 3-pointers, already one more than they made the entire game in Tuscaloosa, when the Crimson Tide made 3 of 30.
  • By the 9:00 mark, Alabama had made 9 of 12 from long range and led 35-24.
  • Alabama got its largest lead of the half at 41-28 with 5:35 on the clock.
  • Trailing 46-34 with 3:05 to go, UK closed the half with a 13-0 run for a 47-46 halftime lead.
    • Grady’s 3-pointer with 42 seconds left gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game.
  • Grady led the way in the first half with 13 points while Tshiebwe had 10 points and six rebounds.
  • UK reserves played only seven minutes in the first half while Alabama’s played 36 minutes.
  • UK is 21-2 this season when leading at intermission.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky began the second half with the starting lineup.
  • UK got the first basket of the second half, completing the run at 15-0 to make it 49-46.
  • Moments later, an eight-point Alabama run put the Tide ahead 56-54.
  • Kentucky followed with a 20-2 spurt pushing the lead to 74-58, its largest of the game at the 10:50 mark.
    • Since trailing 41-28 in the first half, UK’s total run was 46-17.
  • UK’s lineup played the first 11 minutes of the half, with Collins entering for Tshiebwe at 8:54.
    • Collins was the only substitute in the second half, playing just two minutes.
  • Alabama kept battling, narrowing the gap to seven points at 80-73 with 4:53 left, but a Grady 3 and a Mintz desperation banker at the expiration of the shot clock restored some cushion.
  • Grady (12 points) and Tshiebwe (11 points, eight rebounds) again were the pacesetters in the second half.

 

 

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