UK Clinches 43rd SEC title with 78-71 win

The Kentucky Wildcats secured their 43rd Southeastern Conference title today with a 78-71 win over the 16th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Patrick Sparks led the Wildcats with a career-high 26 points, primarily from 3-point range. Kalenna Azubuike added 15 for Kentucky. The victory ended a 13 straight win home record for the Tide. 

Alabama jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first half behind the inside scoring of Chuck Davis and the outside shooting of Kennedy Winston. The 2 players combined for 27 points in the first half.  Kentucky had few answers for the Tide until the waning minutes of the second half, when Kalenna Azibuike and Ravi Moss hit back to back three pointers and Rajon Rondo scored off a steal.  The Cats entered the locker room at half time with some momentum, down by seven points, 36-29. 

At a critical juncture in the second half, with the Wildcats down by 10 points, Ramel Bradley sparked a 13-0 Wildcat run with 2 three pointers and a free throw.  Moss added a three point shot during that stretch and at the 12 minute mark, the Wildcats found themselves with a 3-point lead, 50-47. 

"Ramel stepped up and hit those threes today," said Tubby Smith, "He gave us a big lift off the bench. It's great to see him step up like that. It gave him a lot of confidence."

And then it was showtime for Patrick Sparks.  The Tide would reclaim the lead at 53-50 but Sparks answered with a three to tie.  He would later add another three to extend the Kentucky lead to 58-53.   At the 4:49 mark Sparks would add another three point shot and a lay up to give the Cats a 68-62 cushion.  By the time the final horn sounded Patrick Sparks would finish 7-10 shooting from beyond the arc. The team would finish an outstanding 13-19 from three point range.   The Wildcats shot nearly 57% from the floor for the game. 

"Patrick kept saying, 'call my name coach, call my name,'" coach Tubby Smith said after the game.

Coach Tubby Smith made several adjustments at halftime, most notably a defensive adjustment against Bama’s Chuck Davis.  Davis, who scored 15 points in the first half, would be held to just 2 points in the final period.  Kennedy Winston would lead the Tide with 21 points but shot just 7-19 from the floor.

"Winston hit a number of big threes in the first half, which was key to them building that lead," coach Smith said, "I think we held him to just one three in the second half and that was a big factor."

Another factor in the game was Kentucky's ability to hit clutch free throws down the stretch to hold off the Tide, "I don't think we took a free throw in the first half," coach Smith said, "but we did a good job down the stretch."

The Wildcats also controlled the ball well, having only 11 turnovers, "We're a pretty good team when we control the ball like that," Smith said.

The Cats now go home to take on the Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday before closing out the regular season against Florida in Gainesville on Sunday.


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