Cold-shooting Cats end losing streak

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 4, 2014 

It wasn't the start of the "great story" that Aaron Harrison prophesied after Saturday's stunning loss at South Carolina. But a 55-48 Senior Night victory over Alabama on Tuesday night surely was good enough to brighten spirits.

After My Old Kentucky Home, fans saw Their Old Kentucky team. Poor shooting plagued UK again.

But a victory is a victory, and this one clinched the second seed in next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Kentucky, which avoided its first three-game losing streak since the second of Billy Gillispie's two seasons as coach (2008-09), improved to 22-8 overall and 12-5 in the SEC. UK finishes the regular season at Florida on Saturday.

The Cats made only 32.7 percent of their shots. Julius Randle was Kentucky's only double-digit scorer. He scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, which marked his third straight double-double, and sixth in the last seven games.

Alabama fell to 12-18 overall and 6-11 in the SEC. Point guard Trevor Releford led the Tide with 13 points.

For the third straight game, Kentucky trailed at halftime.

Once again, Kentucky struggled to make shots. Rebounding and inside play kept UK within striking distance.

The Cats made only six of 25 shots in the first half. That marked a slight improvement compared to the 5-for-29 futility in the first 20 minutes at South Carolina on Saturday.

In the last 16 minutes of the half, Kentucky had four baskets; putbacks by Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison, a loose ball that Randle laid in and Randle's strong baseline drive.

The way Senior Night started suggested a fun night. The crowd cheered raucously when Hood hit a three-pointer from the right corner to begin the game's scoring. No one knew 3-0 would represent UK's largest lead of the first half.

Polson hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Cats ahead 6-4 with 16 minutes left.

Kentucky wouldn't get another basket until Johnson's putback with 9:39 left snapped a streak of seven misses and two turnovers.

Another familiar sight was the opposition's quicker guards getting to the basket. Releford led the Tide with nine first-half points. Retin Obasohan, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Antwerp, Belgium, added five points.

Kentucky was unlucky as well as inaccurate with its shooting. With less than three minutes left, Hood had the ball near the top of the key with no more than a second left on the shot clock. His desperation flip hit off the back of the rim, bounced a foot or so in the air and dropped into the basket. That brought a cheer until fans realized the referees waved off the shot as coming too late to beat the shot clock.

Kentucky had won only three of nine previous games when trailing at halftime.

Kentucky needed less than four minutes to score four baskets in the second half. That didn't happen in the opening half until the 8:36 mark. By making four of its first five shots, UK re-took the lead. A three-pointer by Aaron Harrison — UK's first since Polson's swish with 16 minutes left in the first half — put the Cats ahead 35-32 with 16:36 left.

Kentucky exploded to a 43-34 lead with 12:45 left. As explosions go, it was more firecracker than stick of dynamite. Still, an 8-0 run put the Cats ahead by nine, their largest lead to that point.

Andrew Harrison got it started with a three-pointer. Johnson finished it with a dunk off an Andrew Harrison pass, then a putback dunk when James Young missed a free throw.

UK's defense limited Alabama to 1-for-10 shooting (and six turnovers) in nearly a 10-minute span. During that time, UK took a 45-36 lead with 9:58 left.

Alabama's Shannon Hale, the SEC's Freshman of the Week last week, made a rookie mistake. He fouled Young on a three-point attempt. Young, who had not made a shot, hit all three free throws to put the Cats ahead 48-42 with 7:09 left.

Three minutes later, Young finally made a shot. His three-pointer from the left corner put UK ahead 53-47 with 4:10 left and ended his 0-for-8 shooting start.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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