LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky banged, and Alabama came away bruised.
The Wildcats (18-9, 7-7 SEC) beat the Crimson Tide (17-10, 8-6) 81-71 at Rupp Arena on Saturday behind a withering attack on the boards. Kentucky outrebounded Alabama 44-27. It was the fewest rebounds Alabama has had all season. Kentucky’s 20 offensive rebounds tied the most that Alabama has allowed in a game this season.
“Unfortunately, this wasn’t our best night rebounding,” coach Avery Johnson said. “They made us pay a price for it.”
That price added up to 20 second-chance points for Kentucky. Alabama’s defense held the opponents to 43.8 percent shooting, but Kentucky kept coming up with the ball after misses.
Kentucky led just 67-65 when it took the ball with 5:26 to go in the game. The Wildcats missed a layup, tip-in and a 3-pointer, but grabbed the rebound all three times. Kentucky finally finished with a layup underneath after a possession that stretched well over a minute.
“They just outworked us on the boards,” forward Donta Hall said. “They were the hungrier team, it seemed like. We just have to come back the next game and outwork the next opponent.”
Hall led Alabama with 16 points on 7-8 shooting and six rebounds to continue his hot streak of late, but that wasn’t enough. All nine Kentucky players who played finished with at least one offensive rebound. Seven Wildcats had at least four rebounds, led by nine in 19 minutes from Jarred Vanderbilt.
There were times when Kentucky’s athleticism helped the Wildcats win contested rebounds, Johnson said. But they gave up others on hustle and failing to box out.
“We’re not good enough to win a jumping contest with teams, but we have to make contact,” Johnson said. “But there were other times when they were a little better athletically than we were, and we jumped, and we probably jumped as high as we could. They just jumped a little higher.”
John Petty had 13 points and three assists for Alabama. Collin Sexton finished with 12 points and three assists. Alex Reese added 10 points and four rebounds off the bench.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Johnson said. “We still have a high, high ceiling. Another level to go to on both ends of the floor. We showed flashes of it. Hopefully, in the next week or two, we’ll get there.”
Kentucky retook a 60-59 lead with 8:17 to go that it never surrendered, but Alabama stayed within a possession or two until the closing minute. Neither team led by more than six points for most of the game. There were 15 lead changes and eight ties.
Alabama had chances in the last minute but whiffed. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over five times in the last three minutes of the game, including two each from Sexton and Petty.
“We started rushing, we started moving too fast,” Petty said. “We really weren’t paying attention. We had plenty of time, we just let the game speed us up and we made careless turnovers.”
That helped Kentucky extend a two-point lead into a comfortable margin in the final minute. Alabama made just two field goals in the last 5:25 as Kentucky sealed its win.
Kentucky ended a four-game losing streak with the win, while Alabama’s two-game winning streak was snapped.
“We seem to get really desperate after we lose a game,” Johnson said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens with us on Wednesday night.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.