NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Alabama men’s basketball team was bounced from the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday. The Crimson Tide chose not to go quietly, though, making the bouncers throw them out instead.
No. 8 Kentucky had just enough power in its backcourt to do the bouncing, edging Alabama 79-74 to move into Sunday’s championship finals. That’s nothing new for the Wildcats, winners of 41 out of 43 SEC semifinals in which they have appeared. They had to earn this one, though.
“There was no surrender,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “Give credit to Kentucky. They’re a great team and do a great job of representing the SEC. But we didn’t back down.”
The Crimson Tide, which had a 10-point lead in the early going, battled back throughout the second half. With 3:30 remaining in the game, UA trailed by just three points, 64-61, and had Braxton Key headed to the foul line with three free throws to potentially tie the game. Key made just one of the three foul shots and UK effectively used freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox in a spread offense down the stretch. Fox scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the final seven minutes to hold Alabama at bay.
“I just kept making plays, and they kept putting the ball in my hands,” Fox said. “When the coaches have confidence in me, I just go with it. I didn’t want (the second half) to be the same as when I started the game. I had five turnovers in the first half. But to be honest, late in the game, there wasn’t much passing. They spread the floor for me and I tried to get to the basket with it.”
In addition to Fox, Kentucky got 20 points from its other freshman guard, Malik Monk.
“No, the plan wasn’t to let Fox and Monk score 50 points,” a bemused Johnson said when asked about whether his defensive strategy was to “focus on Kentucky’s big men.”
“We guarded them and we guarded them well at times, but those are NBA players,” Johnson said. “They hurt us at times and (Derek) Willis got loose for a couple of threes on us. So give them credit for that.”
Alabama started fast and built a 17-7 lead, only to see UK respond with an 11-0 run. The game stayed close after that, until UK was able to take control at the end.
Dazon Ingram was Alabama’s offensive leader, scoring 17 points before fouling out. Key added 11 points despite struggling (4-of-15) from the floor.
Alabama is now 19-14 and is expected to narrowly miss the NCAA field, but earn an NIT invitation, on Sunday.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.