With Kentucky opening up SEC play with three consecutive victories, things were starting to point in the right direction. The Wildcats easily handled Florida on the road and were set to host an Alabama team who was also undefeated in conference play with a road win against Tennessee already in their back pocket. If Kentucky was able to handle this one, you felt like there was a great chance this team could end the season on a tear.
Well, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Alabama knocked down 14 threes on offense while forcing 19 turnovers on defense to roll over Kentucky in Rupp Arena by a score of 85-65. This one never really felt in doubt and the road team was without three starters for most of the second half. Despite that, Kentucky could never make a run while the offensive issues showed up with a spread offense giving the defense major problems once again.
Kentucky scored 65 points in 73 possessions posting just .890 points per trip for another horrible offensive performance this season. UK shot just 34.4% from the floor and had 19 turnovers with just four makes from three-point range. That is losing basketball.
It appeared that the game plan for John Calipari was to force feed the post to punish an undersized Alabama front line, but the Tide were more than ready for the challenge. UK constantly coughed the rock up on entry passes as they were either bad throws or the post player could not hold his position. It created junked up offense and therefore the Wildcats were never really able to find a rhythm. It was another very tough night for Olivier Sarr.
In 19 minutes, the five-man scored six points on four shots and the fact that he only got off four shots is kind of mind blowing considering how often UK tried to get him the rock. Keion Brooks Jr. got the start and some run at the four, but he did not perform much better scoring 10 points on 12 shots. The front court of Kentucky combined for nine turnovers and it was an awful night in an area where UK figured it would have an advantage.
Playing against Alabama, they want to speed you up as much as possible so it makes it vital that the point guard position can keep everything in check. This was always going to be a tall task for both Devin Askew and Davion Mintz and the duo didn’t have their best game. They did produce 17 points, but it was on 19 field goal attempts and an ice cold 2-of-9 mark from three. They weren’t the ones turning it over, but the offense was out of sync all night and some of that blame should fall on the point guard.
On the wing, Brandon Boston Jr. continues to struggle scoring just five points on seven shots. Dontaie Allen hit a couple of threes, but it doesn’t feel like the offense is chasing enough shots for him.
The most efficient performance of the game came from Isaiah Jackson who scored 14 points on five shots with eight makes from the free throw line. Jacob Toppin was also productive off the bench with a couple energy plays made in the second half.
The Wildcats were just 9-of-19 on dunks and lay-ups while shooting 4-of-18 from deep and just had no real easy offense to find all night. After solid back-to-back outings against Vanderbilt and Florida, they were exposed again versus a good defense.
Alabama scored 85 points in 72 possessions posting a solid 1.18 points per trip. The Tide knocked down 14 three-points shots, but more importantly they were able to produce a decent 44.7% clip from two-point range while dishing out 15 assists. Bama scooped up 13 offensive rebounds leading to 11 second chance points while getting up 28 lay-ups or dunks to go along with those 30 three-point attempts. Kentucky let them do whatever they wanted.
John Petty Jr. has been in Tuscaloosa for at least a decade and the senior paced the offensive attack in Rupp Arena. The two-guard scored 23 points on 15 shots with four makes from three-point range. Kentucky didn’t have an answer for him.
Petty’s running mate in the backcourt was sophomore Jaden Shackelford who also had an excellent output with 18 points in 15 shots with a team-high six assists. Fellow guard Joshua Primo also had a nice scoring night as the freshman chipped in 12 points and Alabama had three other players score eight points. They hit Kentucky’s defense from all over.
From an individual standpoint, the only person you can really point to is Isaiah Jackson. The freshman big remains a force on this end of the floor and he finished the game with seven blocked shots. If UK did not have his rim protection this game really could have gotten ugly.
Similar to the outing against Vanderbilt, Kentucky just did not handle the spread offense with no big in the paint very well. They were once again torched by threes in the first half before adjusting at halftime. Only this time they weren’t facing the worst defensive team in the conference on the other end.
Kentucky’s warts really showed up in this loss. UK has proven to be a solid defensive team this season, but they have one major weakness. This is a group that really struggles to limit dribble penetration and when facing a spread attack it is a nightmare matchup. On the other end, the lack of dribble creation makes UK very easy to defend. They have to feed the post to get paint touches and if you are able to shut that off, it’s going to be a long night for a team that just does not have enough shooting.
The lack of perimeter agility is going to remain a thorn in UK’s side on defense and they are going to face a team on Saturday in Auburn who is built to attack that weakness. Kentucky needs to have some better defensive rotations to help, but I’m just not sure there are answers this season when facing a pace-and-space offensive attack.
On the other end, Kentucky has to be an inside-out offense due to the lack of creators on the perimeter. However, they are really bad at feeding the post and Olivier Sarr isn’t built to hold position for very long. The alternative could be more looks for Keion Brooks Jr. in both the low and mid-post, but the sophomore struggled in just his second game back.
The bottom line is that this team still has a ways to go and Alabama was a nightmare matchup for them on both ends of the floor. It is the main reason they were able to thump Kentucky even without three starters for most of the second half. The hope is that this will be the only SEC team that will give the Wildcats these kind of issues for the rest of the season.
Auburn will certainly test that theory on Saturday as they want to play the same way.