Three times in the early morning on Saturday, a loud clanging woke the University of Kentucky basketball team – the sound of fire alarms blaring at their local hotel.
That probably prepared them for the even louder clanging when Alabama went to the free throw line.
In a 67-58 loss, the Crimson Tide made just 9 of 26 free throws and while a basketball game is more complicated than those simple mathematics might make it, they were symbolic of the way Alabama let a rare opportunity to upset the No. 15 Wildcats go bouncing away.
“I thought this was a winnable game,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson. “Kentucky is a very good team, but they weren’t clicking on all cylinders.
“But we had a very poor first half. We dug ourselves a hole. We had chances in the second half. We just didn’t capitalize. But we were back on our heels in the first half.
“Some of our free throws were off-line. We weren’t missing in-and-outs. They were off to the side, or way short.”
Alabama held UK to just 29 points in the first half but managed just 20 points of its own due largely to a pair of field-goal droughts, one of more than five minutes and another to close the half that lasted just four minutes.
“When you come out to start the game and can’t run your first play that you’ve worked on for two days, there’s a problem,” Johnson said.
Alabama didn’t get off to a strong start in the second half either as UK pushed its lead to as many as 18 points, 48-30, with 10:16 to play. But instead of wilting, Alabama went on a 13-2 run to get back into the game. UA was within six points, 57-51, with 90 seconds to play but UK’s Derrick Willis hit a critical 3-pointer at the 1:15 mark as the Wildcats (20-5, 10-2 SEC) were able to hang on at the end.
“This is like you really zero in one thing and two other things fall apart,” UK coach John Calipari said. “We did a lot of things offensively where we could have spread them out. But they’re one of the top 25 defensive teams in the country. They are. So the game got a little ugly because we tried to play defense for the first time in three weeks. But our effort was good. It was a happy locker room.”
Braxton Key of Alabama led all scorers with 21 points, 17 in the second half. Malik Monk had 17 points for Kentucky while Bam Adebayo added 14 before fouling out. Isaiah Briscoe had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Alabama (14-10, 7-5 SEC) will return to action Wednesday at Missouri.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.