John Calipari has always been fond of wins like the one his Kentucky squad picked up Saturday at Alabama.
The No. 15 Wildcats showed improved defense, better rebounding and a general toughness that has been lacking in recent games on their way to a hard-fought 67-58 victory over the Crimson Tide.
"We improved our defense, which is what we really wanted to do," Calipari said. "And we got to more 50/50 balls... Loose balls, we were diving on the floor. There was a lot of good stuff.
"It was a happy locker room. I was happy for them because these are good kids and they want to get better."
Kentucky (20-5, 10-2 SEC) appeared to be wobbling after the Tide had trimmed an 18-point lead to six with 2:37 remaining, but came up with clutch plays down the stretch. The Cats got a huge, momentum-halting bucket from Isaiah Briscoe to start a 9-4 spurt that secured the win. Derek Willis hit a 3-pointer, Malik Monk drove for a bucket, and De'Aaron Fox converted a steal into a runout dunk to end Alabama's last hope for an upset.
Monk led the Cats with 17 points, followed by Bam Adebayo with 14 points and seven rebounds. Briscoe added 11 points and, perhaps more importantly, 11 rebounds.
"He’s got a toughness to him, and he’s got a fight," Calipari said of Briscoe.
Alabama (14-10, 7-5 SEC) got 21 points from Braxton Key and 12 points from Dazon Ingram, but was unable to build on the momentum it had after beating league-leading South Carolina in four overtimes on Tuesday night in Columbia, S.C.
The Tide doomed its chances with a woeful 9-for-26 day at the free-throw line.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
To borrow from Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops, the Cats did not flinch despite fighting massive foul trouble all day long. Adebayo fouled out with 6:02 remaining, and four other Cats finished the game with four fouls, making sustained defense difficult when it mattered most. Despite that, UK had a better overall defensive showing than we've seen in quite some time. The Cats held Alabama to only one field goal during a 7:04 span in the first half. They also closed the first half by allowing only one point in the final 4:10 to take a 29-20 lead at the break.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky -- The sophomore guard played a key role working the open area in Alabama's 2-3 zone, finishing with 11 points and four assists. He also had a game-high 11 rebounds as UK beat the SEC's top rebounding team 41-38 on the glass. It could have been an even bigger day for Briscoe if not for a 1-for-7 showing at the free-throw line.
BY THE NUMBERS:
4th - Double-double of the season for Briscoe.
7 - Straight wins for UK in the series over Alabama.
14 - UK points off 16 Crimson Tide turnovers.
16-7 - Bench points advantage for the Cats.
19-0 - UK's record when Isaac Humphries scores.
20 - First-half points by Alabama, the lowest by a UK opponent this season.
1,000- Consecutive games by the Cats with a made 3-pointer.
"When you're zeroing in as a coach (on issues) you're not going to be able to do it all. What suffered today was offense. We're not a grind-it-out team, but we had to grind it out today as we continue to work on our defense." -- UK head coach John Calipari.
Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday at Rupp Arena against Tennessee, which beat the Cats 82-80 on Jan. 24 in Knoxville. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Volunteers were set to play Georgia later Saturday night before making the trip to Lexington.