TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In a one-point game with two minutes to play, Kentucky did not score again until the final nine seconds.
What better evidence could a 59-55 loss at Alabama Tuesday night provide that this freshman-dependent UK team doesn't have a so-called go-to guy?
When asked who the Cats intended to lead the way down the stretch, UK Coach John Calipari said in a quiet voice, "We don't even know yet."
Kyle Wiltjer's basket with 2:17 brought Kentucky within 51-50. That was the only second-half basket for Wiltjer, who led UK in scoring for a third straight game.
Thereafter, guards Julius Mays and Archie Goodwin tried and failed to score on drives to the basket.
"We were just groping for anything to keep the game close," Calipari said of UK's desperation in the final minutes. The Cats made only 29.6 percent of their second-half shots (eight of 27).
"They panicked a little bit," the UK coach said.
Calipari cited UK's age, or lack thereof.
"The same things we've been talking about all year," he said in explaining how the Cats came up short. As part of the program's bedrock principle of defense, UK wanted to limit Alabama to one contested shot, rebound the miss and not gamble for steals.
Alabama got only nine offensive rebounds, but three came inside the final six minutes. All resulted in baskets.
Nerlens Noel, who played another busy and effective game (eight points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks), twice committed a telling error down the stretch. He left his feet trying for a block, the aspect of shot-blocking much discussed in the previous few days.
Senior Andrew Steele, the heart and soul of Alabama's team, lifted Noel with a pump fake and scored while being fouled to break a 38-38 tie with 9:42 left. UK never again tied the score or got a lead.
"I was really disappointed," Noel said in acknowledging the mistake. "I should have stayed disciplined."
Afterward, Calipari sounded philosophical.
"It's all part of the growth of a young team," he said.
On Monday, Calipari said the game would be decided by guard play. Afterward, he credited Alabama.
"Our guard play was not near their guard play," he said. "It just wasn't."
Ryan Harrow and Goodwin combined to shoot 5-for-24.
"He just wasn't there," Calipari said of Harrow. "It was a tough game for him."
Calipari suggested Goodwin should have adjusted to the non-calls on his drives to the basket.
"If they're not going to call those fouls, you need to just pull up," the UK coach said.
Calipari said Goodwin should have adjusted by taking pull-up shots or runners.
Wiltjer on UK's disappointment: "We definitely were coming off a good game," he said, "and wanted to keep on making improvements. We let ourselves down."
Calipari saluted Alabama, which won despite making only 36.8 percent of its shots and getting outrebounded 44-32. He likened the Tide to his gutty UMass teams of the 1990s.
"I love that kind of game," he said. "It was a gut game."
Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said the victory "speaks volumes" about his players' character.
Alabama improved to 10-1 when Andrew Steele plays. The Tide was 2-5 when he was sidelined by a sports hernia.
Steele had only one basket, but it was a big one. His three-point play put Alabama ahead for good.
Of the intangibles Steele provides, Grant said, "That type of leadership is invaluable."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.