Kentucky won last night’s game over Alabama by ten points, but the Cats won the battle of the boards by far more than that. UK dominated Alabama, out-rebounding the Tide 44 to 27. The plus-17 rebounding margin was UK’s highest in SEC play, while Alabama’s 27 rebounds tied for the second fewest by a UK opponent this year.
Off the offensive glass, UK out-hustled the Tide, resulting in a 20-9 advantage. Their dominance on the offensive end showed in second-chance baskets: Kentucky rebounded 20 of its 36 misses versus Alabama, leading to 20 second-chance points for the Wildcats.
An equally impressive stat? All nine Wildcats who hit the floor pulled in at least one offensive rebound. Just five Alabama players did the same thing.
“They just outworked us on the boards,” Alabama’s Donta Hall, who finished as the team’s leading rebounder with six boards, said after the game. “They were the hungrier team, it seems like.”
And their head coach agrees.
“Unfortunately, this wasn’t our best night rebounding, [and] they made us pay the price for it,” Coach Avery Johnson said. “We pride ourselves on being a good defensive team, and had we’d been able to get some more of those rebounds, we thought we could go out in transition and hurt them on their transition defense.”
But the Tide wasn’t able to do that. In fact, UK’s defensive boards were nearly as strong, beating Alabama 21-18 in the category. In terms of transition defense, Kentucky and Alabama both scored six fast-break points.
Prior to yesterday’s game, Kentucky was averaging just over 37 rebounds per game. What changed to allow the players to pull in so many more rebounds than usual?
“It was just mental,” Jarred Vanderbilt, the Cats’ leading rebounder said after the game. “It was like, we are going to kill the boards. That was our mindset going into the game. [We] told the guards if they can get it up, I mean, try to make it. But, if not, all of our big guys are coming right there for the putback.”
And they certainly did. Vanderbilt and fellow big man PJ Washington added a combined 14 boards, while Wenyen Gabriel grabbed seven of his own. In a game where both teams were otherwise statistically similar – Kentucky and Alabama put up similar numbers for field goal percentage, turnovers, points in the paint, blocks, steals, assists and fast-break points – rebounding was one of the key difference makers for the Wildcats.
“We made some shots we had to make, but the biggest thing is, we are what we are,” Coach Calipari said after the win. “Like, let’s go get rebounds. Forget about missing shots. Go rebound. We’ve got 20 offensive rebounds. That was the difference in the game.”