Alabama is off to an 0-2 start in Southeastern Conference basketball play and things get no easier for Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide team. Kentucky bested Bama 77-61 before a Coleman Coliseum crowd of 15,383 Saturday.
“Tough night for us,” said Alabama’s first year coach, Avery Johnson. “We got off to a slow start, and the dominated us on the boards early. Our interior defense wasn’t there, and offensively, we’re still a work in progress.
“We need our big guys to get double figure rebounds. We didn’t do a good enough job of slowing down the pick-and-roll. It’s a good teaching point for some of our guys. We’ll look at it on video, and we’ll get better.”
Bama was led in scoring by Retin Obasohan with 21 points. He was joined in double digits by Arthur Edwards with 11 and Riley Norris, who chipped in 10.
Kentucky got 25 points, seven boards from Alex Poythress, while Jamal Murray chipped in 21. Led by 6-9 Marcus Lee’s 11, the Wildcats bludgeoned Bama on the backboards, 43-25.
Cats Coach John Calipari said, “We thought we could get them on the offensive glass (which the Cats did, 15-8).
“We played really good. I told Avery that after (the game). Any time, in any league, that you can win on the road, against a team that’s been playing like (Alabama) has, you feel great. (Johnson’s) a hell of a coach, and he’s got these kids playing hard.”
Calipari then added a key statement that could be a prediction of Tide recruiting: “If you don’t have post presence, your team’s a fraud.”
“That post presence is huge,” Johnson said. “Look at any of the top teams. Serious post presence. That’s what we’re after.”
Bama played a bit better in the second half, but were outscored 39-33. They simply dug too big a hole early.
Obasohan added, “It was more a (lack) of focus. We just have to do a better job of executing offensively and defensively.”
No. 8/9 Kentucky (12-3, 2-1) scored the first five points of the game before Obasohan drove for two. The Wildcats extended their first half advantage to as many as 16 points at the 1:15 mark on a Mychal Mulder 3-pointer. At the half, Bama trailed, 38-28, and had not shown much energy after playing 43 hours earlier in Oxford. Kentucky led for all but 17 seconds of the first 20 minutes. The Tide never had a lead. Not in the first half, or the game.
Johnson said, “We don’t complain. We just didn’t have enough sustainable energy against a ranked team.
“We’re a brand new team. Everything is a new experience for us. We’re not going to get too high (after wins), and we’re not going to get too low after this game.”
In the first half, Kentucky led in paint points (18-10), points off turnovers (10-7), second chance points (5-1) and fast break points (6-2). All that despite three fouls including a technical on heralded Cats 6-11 freshman Skal Labissiere.
In the second half, Bama drew to as close as 42-36 with 16:40 left on a 3-ball by Obasohan that induced a Calipari time out. That trey capped a 14-4 Tide run. Alabama never took the lead in the 40-minute contest. It did draw as close as four points twice, the latest at the 14:04 mark when Obasohan hit two free throws.
There weren’t many bright spots for Alabama, but the crowd and bench loved it when walk-on Lawson Schaffer canned a corner trey in the closing seconds to account for the final margin.
With the loss, Alabama fell to 9-5, 0-2. The Tide will host unbeaten, No. 20/22 South Carolina Wednesday at 8 p.m. CST with the SEC Network set to televise.
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“We want to ask our fans to be patient with us, because we’re going somewhere,” Johnson said, after thanking the Alabama fan base for the sellout and support.