BOZICH | Johnson says Kentucky can "go far" after Wildcats beat Alabama
Kentucky needed a win against Alabama Saturday in Rupp Arena to end a four-game losing streak -- and to stop concerns about the Wildcats making the NCAA Tournament. UK got it.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – This is the kind of game that John Calipari’s Kentucky basketball team needed to win to sound a booming All Clear for the Wildcats’ 2018 NCAA Tournament forecast.
If the tournament started Saturday morning, the Wildcats would have certainly be included in the party, likely as a Six seed.
But Kentucky had lost four straight.
"We had a losing streak?" Calipari asked.
That is what Woodward and Bernstein reported. Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Auburn.
Lose to Alabama and then stumble at Arkansas Tuesday and let the Wildcats’ losing streak grow to six or beyond -- and brows would be furrowed from Paducah to Paintsville. The Wildcats' NCAA outlook has already become a national Internet topic. It always is.
Stop researching Kentucky’s longest losing streaks and return to looking at bracket projections for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats bounced into Rupp Arena and exhaled with an 81-71 win over Alabama Saturday.
"They're still a dangerous team," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "When you have the length and the depth and the size that they have, you're going to be dangerous. They can go far. Their last four games weren't against teams from the YMCA ... Hungry is a good way (to describe how Kentucky played). Sometimes desperate."
Desperation is a good thing. Bump the Wildcats to 18-9 overall and 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky climbed three spots -- from 34 to 31 -- in Ken Pomeroy's computer power rankings with the win.
It was the second most points Kentucky has scored in an SEC game this season, the most in regulation. It was the second largest victory margin in conference play. Nine guys played. Nine guys contributed at least one offensive rebound. No wonder Kentucky collected 20 of their 44 boards on the offensive end.
Kevin Knox and Quade Green were dynamic for the Wildcats. After failing to score in the first half, Knox carried the Wildcats through the middle of the final 20 minutes, scoring 11 points in one 4-½ minute burst. He finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Green made big shots, including both of his attempts from distance. He made a crisp pass to a cutting Jarred Vanderbilt along the baseline that led to a dunk and a 71-67 UK lead with 3:15 to play. Credit Green with a dozen points and four assists. He did not throw the ball away. Not once.
Do not forget P.J. Washington, who contributed a team high 16 points. Or Vanderbilt, who scored 11 with nine rebounds and then drew a comparison to former NBA all-star Dennis Rodman from Calipari. "You're a beast," Calipari said he told Vanderbilt about his play. "I'll tell you who I'll compare him to? Dennis Rodman. Be Dennis Rodman and you'll be all right."
Oops. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also deserves a mention. The box score only credits him with six points, but he made a pair of steals in the final three minutes as Kentucky eased to the finish line.
The two steals highlighted a superb defensive effort by Calipari’s team in the final three minutes as they forced the Crimson Tide into four turnovers.
"Give their defense some credit," Johnson said.
"We started rushing," said John Petty, the Alabama freshman guard who picked the Crimson Tide over Kentucky. "We started moving too fast. We let the game speed us up. We made careless turnovers."
Like Kentucky, Alabama sits in the middle of the pack in the Southeastern Conference. Bama started the day two games ahead of Kentucky in the SEC standings but two slots behind the Wildcats on the tournament seeding projection at BracketMatrix.com
Alabama, however, was not ranked in the Top 30 in the Ratings Percentage Index, which means this game did not qualify as a Quadrant 1 game for Kentucky.
The RPI can say what the RPI says. A knot of NBA scouts showed up to watch the Crimson Tide. They came to Rupp to evaluate Collin Sexton, the freshman who plays point guard for Avery Johnson’s team.
Only four regular season games remain for Kentucky – road games (Arkansas and Florida) bookended around a pair of home games (Missouri and Ole Miss).
Win at least two and the Wildcats can start to think about their NCAA seeding instead of worrying about their place in the field.
"We have to start taking games from people," Calipari said.
"They're still a tough team," Johnson said.
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