The Wildcats' lone seniors, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson, earned rare starting assignments and each knocked a 3-pointer to account for Kentucky's first six points against Alabama as Rupp Arena roared in support of its two home-grown players.
The script took an unexpected turn, though, as Alabama took a lead into halftime and flustered No. 25 Kentucky throughout most of the game with a 1-1-3 zone that gave the young Cats fits.
"We shot 32 percent (16 of 49) for the game and won. I'm happy," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We're still not all the way back. Guys were really tentative. James Young, 1-for-11. Aaron (Harrison) was 1-for-6 from the 3. We had open looks and passed on open looks."
It may have been a struggle, but Kentucky (22-8, 12-5 SEC) broke its two-game losing streak by doing some of the things it has done well all season. The Cats held a commanding 41-27 advantage on the boards, scoring 18 second-chance points.
"The difference in the game to me was offensive rebounding and the free throw line," said embattled Alabama coach Anthony Grant. "Obviously, we knew coming into the game Kentucky was the best team in offensive rebounding in the country and we would have to do a great job rebounding with their size and physicality. It was an issue in both halves."
To his other point, Kentucky was 18-for-24 (75 percent) at the line. The Tide made only 11 trips to the line, hitting seven.
Freshman forward Julius Randle recorded his 17th double-double of the season with a team-high 12 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow freshman big man Dakari Johnson added nine points, five rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Young struggled to get his shots to drop, but the freshman wing made two of the biggest plays in the game. The first was hitting three consecutive free throws after being fouled on a shot behind the arc with 7:08 remaining. It helped give UK a 48-42 lead after the Tide had withstood the Cats' first big run.
The second was a 3-pointer (his only make in 10 deep attempts on the night) with 4:10 remaining after Bama had closed within three once again.
"As bad as James shot it, he makes a 3 that matters and three free throws that matter," Calipari said. "That was big. That was big. We could have lost the game."
"Momentum-changing shots," Grant said. "... They made some huge ones."
Alabama (12-18, 6-11 SEC) scored only three points over the final 6:19. The 48 points scored by the Tide were the fewest surrendered by UK this season.
Trevor Releford was the lone Tide player in double figures with 13 points on a night when he team shot 38 percent (19 of 50) from the floor.
• Kentucky leads the series 103-37, including 54-10 in Lexington. This is the only meeting between the teams in the regular season.
• The Cats are 36-0 now under Calipari when holding the opponent to 55 or fewer points.
• UK closes the regular season Saturday at Florida. Game time is noon and will be telecast on CBS. The Gators have gone 17-0 in SEC play to tie a conference record and will be seeking the first 18-0 run in league history.