Date story published: Sunday, January 15, 2006
Rebounding problem? Kentucky enjoyed a double-digit advantage on the boards.
Disjointed offense? Kentucky had 12 assists, not a huge total but significant progress given that number matched the team's total in the previous two games.
Poor free-throw shooting? The Cats only missed once in 12 attempts.
Given all that repair work, a Kentucky victory over shorthanded Alabama yesterday seemed inevitable.
But, no. Kentucky's defense nullified the progress in a 68-64 loss. That marked UK's first three-game losing streak since the 1999-2000 season and a return of perplexed expressions on the faces of the players.
"I'm at a loss for words at this point," forward Sheray Thomas said. "If there's a problem in one game, we fix that. Then there's a problem somewhere else."
Against Alabama, Kentucky's problems were found on the defensive end. Overall, the Tide made 53.5 percent of their shots, becoming only the fourth UK opponent to make at least half its shots in the last 82 games.
The Tide made 18 of its final 25 shots. Officially, Alabama had only one miss in the game's final 12 minutes: a miss with 11 minutes left from the post by center Jermareo Davidson, who scored a career-high 28 points on 10-for-14 shooting.
Actually, the Tide missed one other shot, a wild drive by Jean Felix that freshman Alonzo Gee dunked home with 4:31 left. Felix's unorthodox attempt fooled the UK stat crew into giving him an assist. Otherwise, Alabama didn't miss from the 10:54 mark to the end of the game in winning its second straight since losing all-league forward Chuck Davis to a torn ACL last weekend.
"When a team shoots 72 percent against you, you're really not doing much defensively," UK Coach Tubby Smith said of Alabama's second-half accuracy (13-for-18).
Kentucky, 10-6 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference for only the second time since 1989-90, led 50-43 with barely 10 minutes left.
Alabama point guard Ronald Steele scored eight straight points to set up a possession-by-possession duel down the stretch.
Davidson loomed large for Alabama. He scored three straight times in the post over fellow-Atlantan Randolph Morris to put the Tide ahead 58-53.
"Playing against a great player like Randolph Morris and all that hype, he wanted to prove himself," Steele said of Davidson. "He was on fire. I really can't explain it. He carried us to the victory."
Behind 64-63, Davidson spun around Thomas for the go-ahead basket and three-point play with 61 seconds left.
"It was all about momentum," Davidson said of beating Morris and then Thomas for scores. "I realized if I go quick, I can score easy."
Kentucky botched two chances to go ahead or tie the score in the final minute.
UK called timeout with 32.2 seconds left on the game clock and six ticks remaining on the shot clock. The Cats wanted guards Ravi Moss and Ramel Bradley to come off screens and either take a pass from Rajon Rondo for an open shot.
"We didn't screen well," Bradley said.
"They were in a zone," Rondo said of the Tide, "and we didn't execute the play."
Precious seconds ticked off before Rondo threw up a three-point miss as the shot clock expired.
Smith noted how the players needed to adjust to the zone. "We have to recognize that and make some decision on the court," he said. "There's only so much you can draw up. ...
"We were playing scared, playing not to lose. We were not playing to win. That's what happens when you're losing like we are."
After Steele, an 87.2-percent free-throw shooter, made one of two attempts with 19.7 seconds left, Kentucky got one more chance. This time, Bradley with a three-point fling that barely touched the rim.
Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried noted how he wanted to clog the middle to prevent a Rondo drive in the clutch.
"If he gets in the paint, he'll carve you up like a side of fries," Gottfried said. Alabama improved to 9-6 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.