Tide Beats Kentucky

On Saturday, the Alabama basketball team pulled off its second consecutive big road upset win since losing Chuck Davis. The Crimson Tide went into Lexington and defeated Kentucky, 68-64, in Rupp Arena, just three days after Bama had beaten Auburn in Auburn.

Alabama improved to 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play with its second win in the last three trips to Lexington. Kentucky fell to 0-2 in SEC play and the Big Blue is on a losing blue streak, three in a row. Bama improved to 9-6 overall, while the Wildcats fell to 10-6.

Bama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "We're not a great team, but we're playing as hard as we can. I'm so proud of these guys. They are playing hard and rallying together. We had poise and made plays when we had to. We've got guys who want to win."

The Crimson Tide had a lot to overcome to get the victory. Bama is now playing without its best player, Chuck Davis, who had been averaging about 18 points per game before being lost for the year to a knee injury in the SEC opener. Kentucky, on the other hand, courtesy of a mysterious NCAA ruling, had the services of Randolph Morris, who poured in 19 points for the Wildcats. And no one at Kentucky will be blaming the officials for the loss. Officiating was as usual in Rupp Arena, which means heavily in favor of the home team. Bama had three baskets wiped out by mysterious charging calls.

Although the the 6-10, 266-pound Morris (who received an unprecedented NCAA ruling that allows him to play even though he declared for the NBA draft last year) was tough on Bama, the Tide's Jermareo Davidson (6-10, 220) was tougher on Morris and the Wildcats.

Davidson, who has been challenged by Coach Mark Gottfried to step his game up even higher than it had been, led the Tide with a career-high 28 points, many of them going over or around Morris. Davidson also had eight rebounds.

Alabama trailed by seven points, 50-43, with 10:35 to play when the Tide's Ron Steele ignited a Bama comeback. Steele drove for a short lay-in to cut it to five, then hit a three-pointer from the top of the circle to pull Bama to within a bucket. Kentucky answered with a trey, but Steele matched it with a layup and a made free throw to pull the Tide within two again.

Steele, who had 14 points, then made a steal, pushed the ball ahead to Davidson, and Davidson made a short shot and was fouled. He made the free throw and Bama had taken the lead at 54-53 with 7:22 to play.

The Tide pushed the lead to as many as seven points down the stretch. Davidson hit a couple of layups and freshman Alonzo Gee jammed home a putback to make it 60-53.

But Kentucky wasn't done. The Wildcats got a trey from All-America point guard candidate Rajon Rondo (who was held to seven points on the day, though). That was answered by Tide freshman point guard Brandon Hollinger, who buried a three-pointer to push the lead back to seven at 63-56.

Although Bama spent most of the game in a two-three zone defense, the Tide had some success in switching to man-to-man late in the game. Still, Kentucky didn't die easily.

The Wildcats got a couple of three-pointers to pull within a point, then a terrible offensive foul call against Steele gave Kentucky a chance to take the lead. Rhondo gave Kentucky its last lead at 64-63 with 1:21 to play. He missed a free throw and the Wildcats would not score again.

Davidson, who was good on 10 of 14 field goal attempts, gave Bama the lead again for good with a nice lay-in and made the free throw when he was fouled for a 66-64 Bama lead with 1:01 to play.

Steele was fouled with 20 seconds to play and made one free throw for a three-point lead, then freshman Richard Hendrix, who had seven points, got the final point of the game as he made one of two foul shots with nine seconds to play.

Kentucky had a nine point lead late in the first half, but Jean Felix and Steele made three-pointers in the final minute and a half to cut the Wildcats' lead at intermission to only three points at 32-29. (Felix had another key trey in the first half and finished with six points.)

Alabama scored the first four points of the second half to take a lead and stayed close until Kentucky looked like it was breaking away with a 9-3 run midway through the second period. That's when Steele started Bama's comeback.

Alabama's win came despite a bad day on the boards. Kentucky out-rebounded Alabama, 32-22, although down the stretch the Tide was able to snatch some defensive boards, denying Kentucky second chance shots.

Last year in Tuscaloosa, Kentucky defeated Alabama, 78-71, with Patrick Sparks blistering Bama with 26 points. Sparks was held to three points in Lexington Saturday.

Alabama outshot Kentucky from the field as Bama hit 53.5 per cent (23-43) and held the Wildcats to only 42.6 per cent. The Tide hit 50 per cent of its three-point tries (6-12), Kentucky 31.8 per cent on treys. Bama was 16-23 on free throws, 70 per cent, while the Wildcats hit 92 per cent.

In the second half, Alabama hit an amazing 72.2 per cent from the field, 13 of 18.

Alabama hosts Arkansas at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

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