UA Basketball Faces Kentucky At Rupp

Robert "Cob" Jarvis died a week or so ago. I knew him casually, the way a sports information director at one school (Alabama) would be expected to know the head basketball coach at another school (Ole Miss). I couldn't think of Jarvis without thinking of Eddie Crawford, who I never met, but who has a big place in SEC history. Or, at least, SEC trivia.

I am reminded of Crawford every time Alabama prepares to play Kentucky in basketball, which is the case tonight in Lexington. If you're going "huh?" right now, stick with me for a moment.

First of all, Alabama will play at Kentucky tonight in the 8 p.m. CST (9 p.m. eastern time) game on ESPN. It will mark the final road game of the regular season for Bama when the Crimson Tide meets the Wildcats in Lexington's Rupp Arena.

In discussing the challenge for his Alabama team, Coach Anthony Grant noted the "history and tradition" of Kentucky basketball. True enough, the Wildcats have dominated the Southeastern Conference. Part of that, though, was Kentucky being the only team that really cared very much about basketball for several decades.

Which brings us to Cob Jarvis and Eddie Crawford. Jarvis, an outstanding basketball and baseball player at Ole Miss, was hired as the Rebels' first fulltime basketball assistant coach in 1966. Two years later, Jarvis was promoted to head coach.

The reason for Jarvis's promotion?

Mississippi proudly proclaimed in a news release that Eddie Crawford had been promoted from head basketball coach to head coach of the Rebels' freshman football team.

It wasn't quite that bad everywhere, but even at Alabama there was an extended period of time when an assistant football coach pulled extra duty as the head basketball coach. As late as the 1960s, Hayden Riley was Bama's head basketball coach, but his primary job was head football recruiter for Paul Bryant's Crimson Tide football team.

As we have pointed out, Kentucky has dominated Alabama in basketball, but nothing like Bama has dominated the Wildcats in football.

So there.

This probably is not a good time to be catching Kentucky. Even if Alabama had a decent team, it would be tough. This particular Crimson Tide team has not won a road game this year. Counting three games at neutral sites, Bama is 0-13 on the road. And now the Tide has to go to Lexington where it will meet a Kentucky team that is probably a little sore. That's because the Wildcats have lost back-to-back games, at home to Arkansas and on the road at South Carolina.

"We realize they are coming off two tough losses in the last two games," Grant said. "Looking at them on tape, though, they are certainly one of the elite teams in college basketball. Every time you go onto an opponent's home court, you have to expect them to be excited and ready to play. We expect to get their best effort."

Kentucky under Coach John Calipari is using a controversial model of signing a team full of players who can compete for the national championship as freshmen, head off to the NBA, and be replaced by another group of one-and-done superstars. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the "student" part of student-athlete.

This year the Wildcats aren't quite what they have been in some years with these phenoms. Still, Kentucky is 21-8 overall and 11-5 in SEC games and ranked in the nation's top 25. Three of their losses have come in the last five games.

Bama, meanwhile, is 12-17 overall and 6-10 in SEC games. At least, though, Alabama is coming off a good win, a 73-57 trouncing of Auburn.

Alabama and Kentucky will meet for the 140th time in series history on Tuesday night, which stands as UA's sixth-most common opponent in program lore. Kentucky owns a 102-37 edge in the all-time series, including wins in seven of the last nine meetings. The Tide is 10-53 all-time against the Wildcats in Lexington and owns a 6-21 mark against UK in Rupp Arena. UA has lost four straight and 11 of the last 13 games when playing in Lexington. The last Tide win at Rupp Arena came on Jan. 14, 2006 (won, 68-64). Last season, Alabama captured a 59-55 come-from-behind win over Kentucky in Coleman Coliseum.

Junior Bama guard Levi Randolph is on a roll coming into the Kentucky game. Over his last three games, the Huntsville native is averaging 23.3 points per game, while shooting 60 per cent (21-of-35) from the floor and 56.3 per cent (9-of-16) on three-point attempts.

Senior Tide guard Trevor Releford (1,825 points) became the seventh player in the 101-year UA program history to record 1,800 points for his career. The last time the feat was accomplished came in 1993, when former great James "Hollywood" Robinson achieved the feat (1,813 points). Releford is 37 points away from moving into fifth on the school's all-time scoring list, currently held by Jerry Harper (1,861 from 1953-56).

Over his last seven contests, Releford is averaging 21.1 ppg, while shooting 53.3 per cent from the floor and 44.4 per cent from beyond the arc. The SEC Player of the Year candidate has recorded double figures in 30 straight games and 40 of his last 41 games dating back to last season.

Freshman Shannon Hale, the SEC Freshman of the Week, has stepped up his game during SEC play, recording double digits in 10 of the Tide's 16 league contests. He is one of only two Bama players (Releford the other) to have started all 16 SEC contests and ranks ninth among SEC freshmen in league games only in both scoring and rebounding average (11.4 ppg and 4.1 rpg). For the year, Hale is fourth on the team with an average of 8.5 points and is third in rebounds per game (3.6 rpg) and three-point field goal percentage (.342).

Alabama will play its final regular season contest when it hosts the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. CST.

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