No. 13 Kentucky at Alabama
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Alabama 9-3, Kentucky 10-2
Radio: 95.3 FM
When the season began, there were a few questions to be answered about this Kentucky basketball team. In large part, that’s because a young Wildcat team opened the season against Duke and took a 118-84 drubbing, uncharacteristic of any John Calipari team at UK.
Since then, the No. 13-ranked Wildcats have rounded into their usual norm as a talented team with solid NCAA chances, coming to Tuscaloosa for Saturday’s noon game on the heels of impressive back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Louisville. Again Kentucky is a strong contender, along with Tennessee and Auburn, for the 2019 SEC title.
“We’re getting better,” Calipari said on Thursday’s SEC teleconference. “It takes time. The guys are all dialed in right now. I like where we are.”
The Wildcats have settled into a rotation with freshman point guard Ashton Hagans and a large, powerful front line filled with scorers, rebounders and shot blockers. Freshman Tyler Herro, a 6-5 forward, had 24 points against Louisville. Keldon Johnson, a 6-6 freshman forward, scored 21 points against North Carolina, while 6-8 Stanford transfer Reid Travis added 20. And there are at least three more inside players on the Wildcat roster capable of posting such numbers.
Alabama’s 6-9 senior center Donta Hall has also been playing at that level in recent games, but will need plenty of help from his teammates. So will freshman Kira Lewis, Jr., who will match up with Hagans in a pairing of two of the league’s top young point guards.
“We need contributions from everybody,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “We knew that Riley (Norris) would give us some senior leadership and he has. But we need it from other guys when they are in the lineup — (John) Petty, Dazon (Ingram) and (Tevin) Mack when they are in there. We need (rebounding) help from our guards.
“We also need our crowd. We had a strong turnout against Penn State (an earlier home game during Christmas break) and I expect we will have the same thing.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.