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Tide Scratches Back For The Win

It’s becoming a trend with this Alabama team as they fought and scratched back in the second half to get the win in Coleman Coliseum tonight 59-55. It was cold in Tuscaloosa tonight but the Alabama faithful came out to show their support as 15,383 packed the house.  As the Tide started to roll in the second half the fans and students brought the decibels. “I’m just really proud of our guys’ effort,” UA Head Coach Anthony Grant said. “There was great energy in the building, and there was a lot of emotion”.

Alabama started out the game and was able to hang with Kentucky until midway through the first half. That’s when the Wildcats started to take over and it looked like it may be an easy win for the Cat’s.  Kentucky outscored the Tide 20-12 in the paint in the first half and led by nine going into the locker room 33-24. It’s just about what everyone expected going into the game though – right?

Kentucky’s highly touted and talked about 6-10 Nerlins Noel had several blocked shots in the first half, which is what he is known for, and ended the game with seven blocks thirteen rebounds and eight points.  Kyle Wiltjer led Kentucky with 14 points, with 11 of those coming in the first half.

Junior center Moussa Gueye was the only non-guard to start the game only scored four points, but that equaled his season high, but more importantly he blocked five shots and five rebounds. Sophomore forward Nick Jacobs came off the bench to score four points in the first half and finished the game with 10. But these two are really what made the difference in the game.  “They were physical,” said UK Head Coach John Calipari. “It got rough in there, and we didn’t respond”.

The Crimson Tide did as they have done the last two games.  They went in down at the half, and come out extremely strong in the second.  Nearly five minutes into the second half Alabama goes on a 13-3 run to cut the Kentucky lead to one. “A thing we talked about at halftime was calming down. Just understand it’s a basketball game just like any other game and we have to do the things that we do that allow us to have success. I thought we did that in the second half.” said Head Coach Grant.

The Alabama defense comes up big in the second half again as Kentucky shot 48.3% (14-29) in the first half, and only 29.6% (8-27) in the second half. The Tide came out aggressive, and attacked the young Kentucky team.  “I thought our defense was solid [in the second half], we set it in, we started to guard, we got stops, we got good effort from a lot of different guys on the defensive end, and we made enough plays from an offensive standpoint,” Grant said.

On the offensive end the “dynamic duo” or the “Two Trevors” or whatever you want to call them had another solid game. Junior guard Trevor Releford added 13 points to the Crimson Tide’s total and Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey with 7 while Levi Randolph scored 11 points.

With eight ties and six lead changes in the game Alabama came away with 10 steals on the night and 11 points off turnovers, is now 11-1 this season when they have eight or more steals.  Senior guard Andrew Steele’s three-point play in the lane, which included a pump fake that got Noel off his feet, gave Alabama the lead (41-38) for the final time with 9:42 left in the game.

After Kentucky closed to 45-44, Lacey drove to the basket and Kentucky’s Poythress was called for blocking which was his fifth foul. Referee Doug Shows also called Noel for goal-tending on the play.  Jacobs shot the free throws as Lacey was on the bench with severe cramps in his legs. The rare two-man three-point play put Kentucky behind 48-44 with 4:26 left. This was the largest margin either team led by until the final 30 seconds of the game.

The final two minutes of the game were the most exciting of the evening.  The crowd was on their feet, both teams fighting to make shots and get the rebounds. With neither team having fouls to give, and each team strategizing for the final points the atmosphere was tense and exciting at the same time.

With a little over a minute remaining, Steele attempts to go over Noel and misses but Jacobs follows through with the basket. Kentucky comes back down the floor and takes their time to set up he shot trailing by three. The Wildcats miss the shot and the Tide brings it back down the floor as Cooper is fouled with 26.7 seconds left on the clock. Cooper sinks one of two free throws and Alabama gets the ball back due Noel knocking the ball out of bounds according to the referee. Lacy comes back in the game after being out four minutes to throw in the ball.  Kentucky has to foul at this point to get the ball back, so Steele goes to the line and misses his first shot but hits the second.  As the Cat’s drive down the field the 7-0 center Gueye gets a great block and Randolph gets fouled.  After hitting both shots, Kentucky’s Mays hits a three with 8.8 seconds remaining.  With the inbound Releford is fouled and hits both free throws to seal the win 59-55.

Alabama is now 12-6 overall and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference play while Kentucky drops to 12-6, with a 3-2 mark in the SEC. The Tide is now in sole possession of third place in the SEC behind Ole Miss and Florida.

Alabama plays again Saturday (Jan. 26) against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., as the Tide look to win its fifth SEC game in a row. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN2 and the radio broadcast will be carried on the Crimson Tide Sports Network.

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