Alabama led the Southeastern Conference Western Division for most of the season and had hopes of the SEC title until Saturday. Now Bama is in an uphill fight to win the West. Earlier in the week the Tide had been beaten by LSU in Baton Rouge.
Alabama will try to get back on winning track with its final home game at 7 p.m. Wednesday when the Tide hosts Auburn. Bama defeated the Tigers, 60-55, in Auburn earlier this season.
Nevertheless, Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "There's a lot of basketball to be played. A lot of teams in America would like to be where we are."
Alabama went into the game ranked 16th in the nation against fifth-ranked Kentucky. The loss dropped the Tide's record to 21-6 overall and 10-4 in SEC play. Kentucky improved to 22-3 and 13-1. The Wildcats one loss was at South Carolina, and when Gamecocks fans stormed the court in celebration the SEC slapped South Carolina with a $5,000 fine.
About the worst thing the SEC did to Alabama Saturday was assign a group of officials who allowed the Wildcats to be extraordinarily aggressive without penalty. Still, Bama had a seven-point lead, 36-29 at halftime, and built it to 10 points early in the second half. The Crimson Tide's problem was that Kentucky shots that had been contested in the second half were mostly open in the second half. And Alabama, which had open shots throughout the game, did not have a good shooting day.
Kentucky's Patrick Sparks, a 6-0 junior guard who averaged 11 points a game and had six at the half, was unstoppable in the second half, finishing with 26 points. He hit 7-10 three-point shots, part of a barrage of 13-19 treys (68.4 per cent) by the visitors. Gottfried called the three-point shooting by the Wildcats the key to the game.
Kentucky was held to 44.4 per cent shooting in the first half, but blistered Bama with 15-21 shooting in the second half, 71.4 per cent. Kentucky finished with 27-48 field goals, 56.3 per cent.
Shooting was really the difference in the game. There was no significant difference in tunovers, assists, blocked shots, and steals. Bama actually had a slim margin in rebounding, 28-24.
But the Tide hit only 22 of 49 field goals, 44.9 per cent, and only 9 of 24 three-pointers, 37.5 per cent. Alabama did shoot free throws well, 18-19 for 94.7 per cent, while Kentucky struggled a bit, 11-17 for 64.7 per cent. But the Wildcats made eight foul shots in the final two minutes as a Bama fouling strategy was unsuccessful.
Kennedy Winston was Alabama's leading scorer with 21 points, but he hit only 7-18 from the field and missed four shots from very close in. Earnest Shelton, who was the primary victim of Sparks' hot shooting, hit only 4-9 from the field, including 1-5 on treys, for 12 points. Chuck Davis had 17 points, but was held to only one field goal in the second half. Ron Steele had 10 points, and held his counterpart, Kentucky's freshman point guard Rajon Rondo to two points.
Steele played all 40 minutes, while Davis and Winston played 38 each.