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Tide rallies back to top cats

When Kentucky brings its storied program and numerous McDonald’s All Americans to Tuscaloosa, one can be sure a sizable amount of NBA scouts will turn out. Such was the case Tuesday night at Coleman Coliseum. What they saw was a lot of talent on both teams, while filling their notebooks and I pads during Alabama’s 59-55 win over the Wildcats.

Some of the players the scouts had to be impressed with: Kentucky’s Nerlins Noel, Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress, along with the Tide’s “Two Trevors,” Lacey and Releford (13 points).

And that’s just a partial list. Unsung sophomore Nick Jacobs came off the bench to contribute 14 points and five boards in the upset. Also in double digits was Levi Randolph with 11. Moussa Gueye had five blocks and five boards to go with four points.

Said Tide coach Anthony Grant, “I thought the emotion in the first half got the best of us. We needed to settle down offensively, and I thought our guys responded. The defensive effort was terrific. I’m proud of the guys for sticking with it. It’s a good win, but it’s just one win.”

Randolph added, “We just have to lock in and do what coach (Grant) tells us to do. In the second half, we did that.  Coach always tells us to stay the course. It’s a 40-minute game.

“The crowd was like a sixth man. They gave us a lot of energy, and we feed off that.”

“They just were aggressive, and we were tentative. They were physical,” said Cats coach John Calipari. “It got rough in there, and we didn’t respond. Our guard play was not near their guard play.

“(Alabama) fought, had great confidence and played to win. They gutted it. We didn’t.”

Noel  had 13 boards and seven blocks to go with eight points.

After each team turned it over twice, Gueye brought the crowd of 15,383 to its feet with a hook to open the scoring. In a first half that featured five ties and three lead changes, Kentucky’s 6-10  Noel posterized Gueye to tie the game, and sixth man Wiltjer hit a jumper to put the Cats (12-6, 3-2 SEC) up 8-6 heading to the first TV time out.

Cooper drained a bomb to get the Tide back up, but Wiltjer spun in to tie it. Heading to media time out No. 2, the Cats clung to a 12-10 lead.  Cooper fed Jacobs for a slam to tie it, but the Cats continued to match buckets.  The Tide (12-6, 4-1) seemingly had no answer for the 6-10 Wiltjer who scored 11 of his 14 points in the first 20 minutes. The teams headed to their locker rooms with the Wildcats up 33-24, having out-rebounded the Tide 22-11. A 9-2 late run helped the Cats’ cause.

The 7-foot Gueye began the second half scoring with a put back, but missed an ensuing free throw. A corner trey by Releford and a banker down under by Lacey drew the Tide to within a point and Calipari took a time out with 15:39 to go. After pressure man-to-man defense caused a UK turnover, Bama capped an 11-1 run to start the half by taking the lead on a pair of Lacey free throws. With 13:29 to go, the Tide had but its second advantage, 35-34.

That advantage was short-lived. Two free throws and a steal/layup later, the Cats were up three at the 11:40 media break. Yet another lead change occurred when Andrew Steeled (who became an uncle by older brother Ronald earlier in the day) completed an old-fashioned 3-point play with 9:42 left. The Tide led by three.

With the same score and 5:39 left, Grant called time with nine seconds on the shot clock to set a play. Jacobs put back a miss to make it 45-42. UK answered, but Lacey drove for a basket he missed but both goal-tending a foul were called. Lacey cramped up after the hard foul, was helped to the sidelines, and Kentucky chose Jacobs to shoot one. He canned it, and Bama led 48-44 with 4:22 left. Randolph answered a Kentucky hoop by splitting two free throws to put the lead back to three with 3:35 left.

Jacobs answered a Noel dunk with a tip in, and Wiltjer hit a spinner. With 1:20 to go, Cooper fouled Wiltjer, and the soph missed the front end. Grant called time to set a play up with 1:13 to, and the result (after a Calipari time out) was a Jacob s tip off a Steele miss. Trailing by three, the Cats got an offensive rebound and took a full time out with 39.3 to go.

Gueye altered a shot, Releford led a break, dished to Cooper, and the sophomore drew a two-shot foul. He made the front end, but missed the second. However, Noel knocked the ball out, giving it back to Bama. The Cats quickly fouled Steele, who drew the tenth foul of the half. Knowing he had two shots, the senior missed the first, and swished the second with 22 ticks left. Gueye blocked a shot, Randolph grabbed the loose ball, got fouled, and hit both. A Julius Mays trey with 8.8 to go drew the visitors to within four with 8.8 left. Releford, the Tide’s top free throw shooter, then went to the line and nailed both, securing his team’s fourth straight win. Mays scored a dozen to lead UK.

Alabama will travel to Tennessee Saturday, with tip time set for 1 p.m. CT. The game will be televised by ESPN2.

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