BOZICH | Calipari says Kentucky can beat -- or lose to -- anybody
Alex Poythress had a career night (25 points) and Jamal Murray added 21 as Kentucky beat Alabama for the Wildcats' first road victory this season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Avery Johnson. Anthony Grant. Mark Gottfried. David Hobbs.
The names of the Alabama coaches change. The results of the Kentucky-Alabama basketball series do not.
In his first game against UK as the Alabama coach, Johnson discovered what Crimson Tide coaches before him learned: Alabama ends up with a mouthful of net against the Wildcats.
Kentucky was tougher, deeper, stronger and more determined Saturday night, dispatching Alabama, 77-61, in stuffed Coleman Coliseum for the Wildcats' first road victory in three tries this season.
The Wildcats (12-3, 2-1) avoided their first 1-2 start in the Southeastern Conference since 2008. They also avoided losing back-to-back games for the first time since March 1, 2014.
“If they all play, we can play with anybody,” UK coach John Calipari told the SEC Network after the game. “If they don’t, we get beat by anybody. It’s just how it is.”
Five Takeaways From the UK Win
*Alex Poythress can be Kentucky’s inside presence.
Julius Randle and Karl-Anthony Towns don’t live in John Calipari’s lineup any more. You could clear a space near the basket, dump the ball to Randle or Towns and expect the Wildcats to get a basket or a trip to the foul line. They were relentless and reliable in half-court offense.
After scoring four points against LSU, Poythress played like a senior against Alabama. He attacked the rim. He made a fancy reverse layup. He made a perimeter shot. He got to the line. He played like the guy Kentucky needs to be Mr. Low Post Presence.
Poythress finished with 25 points and seven boards. The 25 points were more than a season high. That topped the career high of 22 points that Poythress posted as a freshman against Brooklyn in 2012. Poythress was forceful, getting to the line 11 times, making nine. He only settled for one three-point shot.
Poythress (13) and Jamal Murray (14) scored all of the Wildcats’ first 27 points. Tyler Ulis finally joined the party when he made an 18-footer with 3:56 left in the first half.
After Alabama cut Kentucky’s lead to 42-36 early in the second half, Poythress came back into the game to stop the run by the home team. The beatdown resumed.
The only downside for Poythress was that he bumped knees with an Alabama defender with 32.1 seconds left in the first half and missed some time. At times, the knee looked tender, but Poythress stayed on the court for most of the second half and never backed down.
“All the teammates, we had to get focused after the loss,” Poythress told the SEC Network after the game. “We couldn’t lose two games in a row
“Any time you win, you always enjoy it, you love it. We enjoy it for 10 minutes and you have to move on to the next game.”
“Alex was outstanding,” John Calipari said.
Poythress bumped his season scoring average to 10.1, fourth on the team. He also has 106 rebounds, one less than team leader Marcus Lee. Both are averaging 7.1.
*Jamal Murray can score.
Murray sometimes struggles with his shot, but he never struggles with his confidence. He did most of his work in the first half, scoring 14 of his 21 points. Calipari would like him to be more consistent. But this is Murray's first trip though the SEC.
But he’s a guy the opposing defense must account for whenever he’s on the floor and his presence created openings for Tyler Ulis to drive. And with Bama focused on Murray, Isaiah Briscoe stepped forward in the second half a scorer as well as a defender. Briscoe led Kentucky in the second half when he scored all 12 of his points.
“I thought Jamal made strides,” Calipari said. “He made winning plays today.”
Murray continues to lead Kentucky in scoring at 17.3 per game. He's also made 37 three-point shots, nearly double the total of any teammate.
*The Wildcats can defend.
The shot clock became a problem for Alabama Saturday. The Wildcats made that happen. On multiple possessions, Calipari’s team cranked up the pressure across the perimeter. Alabama needed nearly half of the 30 seconds allowed per possession to start its offensive sets.
Bama shot less than 40 percent in the first half as the Wildcats surged to a 38-22 lead. The Crimson Tide was not better in the second half, shooting only 31 percent. Alabama finished 18 of 52, 34.6 percent.
The Wildcats overwhelmed Alabama on the glass, 43-25, and never trailed. Bama was 7 of 24 from distance and finished with five assists.
Opponents are shooting 40.5 percent against UK this season, 30.4 from distance.
*Still No Skal
Skal Labissiere, Kentucky’s freshman center, tried to upgrade his adrenaline and intensity, but the game remains difficult for the five-star recruit.
At one point in the second half when the physicality of the game intensified, Calipari had Labissiere parked at the scoring bench ready to enter the game. But after watching an Alabama tip-dunk, Calipari changed his mind, bringing Labissiere back to the bench and waving Derek Willis into the game.
Labissiere played only one minute in the second half. He finished the game no points, one rebound, one block and three fouls, including a technical.
Eventually the Wildcats will need more from their prized freshman. But he’s still not ready. His overall physical strength remains an issue. Labissiere has scored 16 points with 14 rebounds in UK's last six games.
*Kentucky avoided falling two games behind Texas A&M and South Carolina in the loss column.
After losing their first SEC road game at Louisiana State Tuesday, the Wildcats needed this game.
Earlier in the day Texas A&M moved to 3-0 in the league (with two road wins), by rallying to win at Tennessee
South Carolina also stayed unbeaten in the league (2-0 and 15-0 overall) by coming behind to defeat Vanderbilt. The Wildcats finished the night tied for third in the SEC, behind A&M and surprising South Carolina.
Kentucky faces two games next week – a game against Mississippi State in Rupp Arena Tuesday night and a trip to Auburn Saturday. Mississippi is 7-7 overall, losing its first two SEC games to Texas A&M by one and to Arkansas by 14.
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