TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For those believing the extra time needed to subdue Ole Miss and Texas A&M should serve more to entertain than alarm, Kentucky strengthened that faith Saturday.
Kentucky overwhelmed Alabama 70-48 to further cement its status as the best team in the Southeastern Conference and the nation and, perhaps, in recent college basketball memory.
The pillars upon which Kentucky intends to achieve historic feats this season buried Bama: impenetrable defense and inside-first offense.
Noting the return to intense defense after the relative laissez faire in the SEC schedule's opening week, Willie Cauley-Stein said the Cats again seek much more than to simply defend.
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Prior to the SEC's opening week, the thinking had been "right before games, we're going to try to shut them out," he said. "That was our thing. ...
"We're back to, 'Yeah, we're trying to shut people out.' We're not trying to play with them. We try to, you know, demoralize them."
Alabama, which had won 14 straight home games dating to last season, suffered the most lopsided loss in Coach Anthony Grant's six seasons as coach (previous worst was a 21-point loss at Missouri last season). Grant became the eighth opposing coach to absorb his worst defeat at the hands of Kentucky this season, and the second in five days counting the 86-37 rout of Missouri on Tuesday.
The beatdown of 'Bama — the Tide's worst loss since Jan. 1, 2008, and the most lopsided against Kentucky since the 1992 SEC Tournament — made the previous week's overtime escapes against Ole Miss and A&M seem like aberrations.
"I think those struggles just reset our minds," Cauley-Stein said after Kentucky improved to 17-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC.
On offense, Kentucky used its size advantage to overwhelm the Tide.
"Part of the game plan: Just pound it inside," Cauley-Stein said. "We knew they would be physical. So we wanted to go at them first. We made a statement: we're not going to get thrown around in the post. We're going to go right at you."
The soundness of such a strategy was readily apparent. Kentucky dominated the first half with size and skill. The Cats led 35-17 at halftime.
Alabama, which had averaged 33.3 points in first halves this season, made only seven of 22 shots in the opening 20 minutes. The Tide, which seemed intent on shortening the game, had almost as many panicked shots in the final seconds of the shot clock (five) as baskets.
With 17:27 to go in the first half, Kentucky took the lead for good in telling fashion. Rather than force a shot in the post, Karl-Anthony Towns alertly passed to Cauley-Stein, who dunked. That play, which was one of six assists credited in UK's first 10 baskets, came early in a 10-0 run. The Cats steadily increased the margin.
Grant talked about UK's "platoon of 'bigs" and its "litany of post guys."
Foul trouble hurt Alabama's chances of avoiding a first home loss in 11 games this season. Center Jimmie Taylor picked up two fouls inside the first seven minutes. That took away the Tide's leading shot blocker (29, or 21 more than any teammate) and best inside presence.
"We were a little under-sized," Grant said of playing without Taylor. "They were able to take advantage of that."
Alabama, which had outscored 11 of its previous 16 opponents after halftime, took the initiative early in the second half. The Tide scored the first seven points to reduce UK's lead to 35-24 and prompt a UK timeout.
Ricky Tarrant's fast-break layup after Alabama ripped the ball from Aaron Harrison made it 39-30 with 13:10 left. That marked the first time Kentucky did not enjoy a double-digit lead since the 8:05 mark of the first half.
In a flash, the Cats re-assumed control. Dakari Johnson used a 3-inch, 32-pound advantage on Michael Kessens to power to a post-up basket. When Tyler Ulis hit a three-pointer on the break, the lead was 45-30 with less than 12 minutes left.
Ulis' shot ignited a flurry. Ulis (left corner) and Booker (right wing off a transition pass by Ulis) hit threes within 41 seconds to put Kentucky ahead 55-32 and into settle-the-final-score mode.
Coach John Calipari declined to say that Kentucky had regained its "swag."
"I don't know," he said. "I just hope we continue with defense. The offense will catch up. It always does."
Perhaps not entirely sure that the Cats can avoid another overtime thriller in the future, Calipari had one other wish.
"I just hope we're good enough to win if we're not playing great," he said. "And playing great for us is just about energy."