How Will Tide Stop Kentucky?

Alabama Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried knows that his Crimson Tide has a tough assignment Saturday when Bama hosts Kentucky. Although he said, correctly, that Kentucky has a number of good players, he specifically—and, again, correctly—mentioned two Wildcats of particular concern.

It is alarming to think about Alabama's defense this year and how the Crimson Tide might take on Kentucky's outstanding guard, Jodie Meeks, and the Wildcats exceptional post player, Patrick Patterson. It's not unreasonable to suggest that Alabama can't guard Patterson and won't guard Meeks.

The Crimson Tide defense has not been a strong point in several years. This year Bama has been good therapy for teams previously suffering scoring problems. Now Bama is preparing for Meeks, the nation's third-leading scorer at 26 points per game, and Patterson, the 6-9, 235-pound sophomore star who makes over two-thirds of his field goals.

Game after game opponents have been hitting unguarded three-point shots against the Tide. Most of those opposing shooters haven't been household names. Meeks is a known quantity. He lit up Tennessee for a school record 54 points. He's averaging 32 points per game since the Wildcats got into Southeastern Conference play. That's one reason Kentucky is 4-0 in SEC games. (The Wildcats are 15-4 overall under Coach Billy Meeks has made 75 of 167 treys, just over 48 per cent.

Thus far in a season in which Alabama is 12-6 overall and 2-2 in SEC games, the Tide has not had a perimeter player who has been a shutdown defender. No one who denies the ball, no one who gets over screens, no one who consistently challenges outside shots. That's not so say it can't be done, but it will be a surprise if it happens against Meeks.

As for Patterson, the Tide will probably have to work several big men in rotation against him. Justin Knox, Bama's biggest at 6-9, 240, may get the call. If he doesn't have to go outside with an opponent, Knox is more effective. Patterson stays pretty close to the basket. It would be good if Bama's defender on Patterson could get some help from the wings, but neither Alonzo Gee nor Senario Hillman is a fundamentally sound defensive player. Both go for steals and blocked shots, but neither has demonstrated an ability to drop down.

This is a problem that seems to scream "ZONE!" This, too, is something that has not been effective for Alabama thus far.

Maybe Alabama can outscore the Wildcats. It doesn't look likely, but Bama's offense has picked up since Mikhail Torrance has moved into the lineup at point guard. He's had career-high games in each of his last three outings—20 at Mississippi State, 24 at Auburn and 24 against in Bama's latest outing, a 76-73 home win over Ole Miss that ended the Tide's two-game losing streak. Alonzo Gee has had a good season in the scoring column with a 14.3 average. Senario Hillman has averaged 13.6 points per game and can get hot, despite his 17.6 per cent shooting from three-point range. (You'll have to ask someone else why he continues to take those shots. Freshman post player JaMychal Green has played well, averaging 8.8 points and 6.9 rebounds, but Green has trouble staying on the court because of foul problems.

One dose of reality on the "outscore them" theory is that Kentucky is averaging 79.4 points per game, Alabama 72.7. The Wildcats give up 64.1, while Bama gives up 66.4.

As every other team in the SEC, Alabama has a losing record against Kentucky all time. But the Tide has done a lot better than most. In the all-time series, the Wildcats have a 97-35 advantage. But in the last 10 meetings, Bama has won four. And in Tuscaloosa, Alabama's deficit is only 21-27, including a 15-16 record at Coleman Coliseum. And Gottfried is 3-2 in Coleman against the Wildcats (a respectable 5-7 overall).

Tipoff Saturday is at 2 p.m. CST. The game will be regionally telecast.

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