Tide At Partial Strength For Kentucky

Kentucky’s home basketball court in Lexington, Rupp Arena, opened in 1976 and in the 40 years playing there the Wildcats have lost only 64 times. Alabama has a handful of those wins over UK, but none lately. Most disheartening, only the worst for an Alabama at less than full strength is expected there tonight.

Once upon a time, Alabama basketball had no fear of Kentucky. The Crimson Tide is like every other Southeastern Conference team in having been dominated in the won-lost column by the Wildcats, but Bama has had its moments. Alabama was the first team ever to score 100 points on Kentucky. The Crimson Tide gave the Wildcats their worst loss ever in their old campus arena, Memorial Coliseum. And Bama has a handful of wins in Rupp, including a couple of 14-point decisions that once ranked as the worst for the Wildcats, and also a win that gave Alabama the championship of the 1982 SEC Championship Tournament.

Alas, no one expects Coach Anthony Grant’s Crimson Tide (13-7 overall, 3-4 SEC) to put up much of a fight against undefeated and No. 1 ranked Kentucky when the teams meet at 6 p.m. CST (7 eastern) in Rupp Arena in Lexington today. The SEC Network will televise the game.

Kentucky has an all-time record of 104-37 against Alabama, and of those 104 the one most on the mind of Bama followers is the last one, a disappointing 70-48 loss in Coleman Coliseum two weeks ago. Under any circumstances, the Crimson Tide would be an underdog against the Wildcats. In that first meeting, Kentucky played very, very well. The primary disappointment was that Alabama did not play close to its best game in the 22-point blowout.

Historically, Alabama teams have played well against the nation’s number one team. Even with the loss to Kentucky earlier in the year, Bama all-time is 4-6 in games against the top-ranked team.

Kentucky has won nine of the last 11 games against Alabama and Bama’s all-time record against the Wildcats in Rupp is 6-22. Bama has lost five in a row in Lexington.

As if things were not dire enough for Alabama, the Tide will be without its starting point guard and second-leading scorer, Ricky Tarrant (13.1 points per game). On Friday, Grant said, “Ricky Tarrant will be out (Saturday). He’s got a lower leg injury, so he won’t be available. We’ll know more about his status after the weekend. As far as right now, he’s out for tomorrow’s game, and that’s all we really know.”

Alabama can go either senior or freshman at point guard. Although senior Levi Randolph is typically a second guard, he has the ability to play the point. Justin Coleman is an exciting point guard, but he is a freshman.

Bama is expected to also start Rodney Cooper at wing, Jimmie Taylor at center, and either Riley Norris, Michael Kessens, or Shannon Hale at forward (perhaps two of them if Randolph is at point).

Grant said, “We’re looking forward to getting back on the court in Lexington. Kentucky is obviously playing really good basketball. I watched their game last night – pretty convincing performance last night. Looking at the last time we played them, I think we did a great job in our building. I felt like, from a productivity standpoint for us, we needed to play better against a team as talented as them. Some things that we’ve got to do better: obviously, taking care of the basketball, rebound the basketball, being able to defend without fouling. Those are always huge, but when you play Kentucky those will be really important part of the game. From a focus standpoint, we understand the challenge that we’ve got ahead of us.”

Randolph leads Alabama in scoring (14.7 ppg), assists (2.4 apg), steals (1.6) and minutes (34.3 mpg) through the Tide’s 20 contests. The Madison, native ranks fourth in the SEC in free throw percentage (.832) and ninth in scoring and in steals.

Cooper is third with 10.9 ppg and is tied with Tarrant for the team lead in threes made (29), while ranking second in three-point shooting (42.0 per cent).

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