Five things to know about Kentucky’s next opponent, the Alabama Crimson Tide:
1. Avery Johnson is building something in Tuscaloosa
In his third year as head coach of the Crimson Tide, the 52-year-old New Orleans native appears to have the Alabama basketball program on the right track with Bama 17-9 overall and 8-5 in the SEC.
Johnson played his college basketball at New Mexico Junior College and Cameron before finishing up at Southern. Undrafted, he played professionally 16 seasons, starting with the United States Basketball League’s Palm Beach Stingrays before being picked up by the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics.
Johnson played for the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks before becoming an assistant coach with Mavericks in 2004-05. He was named head coach the following season and led the Mavs to a 60-22 record and a spot in the 2006 NBA Finals, where Dallas lost to Dwyane Wade and the pre-LeBron James Miami Heat.
Dallas went 67-15 in 2006-07, but was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. After slipping to 51-31 in 2007-08 and being bounced again in the first round, Johnson was fired.
He took over as coach of the New Jersey Nets in 2010-11. After going 24-58, then 22-44 in 2011-12 and 14-14 in 2012-13, Johnson was fired.
After doing some television analyst work, Johnson was named head coach at Alabama in 2015-16, replacing the fired Anthony Grant. Bama went 18-15 and 19-15 his first two season, including marks of 8-10 and 10-8 in the SEC.
2. Collin Sexton is Alabama’s freshman star
The 6-foot-3 point guard from Mableton, Ga., was ranked as the No. 8 overall prospect by Rivals and was the centerpiece of a Johnson recruiting class ranked seventh in the nation. That class included John Petty, whom UK recruited, who was ranked No. 28 by Rivals, Herb Jones (90) and Alex Reese (99).
Sexton leads the Tide in scoring at 18.3 points per game, which ranks third in the SEC. He’s averaging 3.5 assists per game, is shooting 34.1 percent from three-point range and 77 percent from the foul line.
Sexton started with a bang, scoring 40 point in a November game against Minnesota in which the Tide was forced to play with three players for a long stretch. Sexton scored 30 points in Alabama’s 88-82 loss to Arizona in the pre-conference schedule.
Despite playing with a nagging abdominal injury, Sexton has scored in double figures in six straight games. After missing all seven of his three-point attempts in a 67-63 loss to Mississippi State, Sexton has made 11 of 21 shots from the floor over the past two games, wins over Tennessee and LSU.
3. A young team, Alabama has had its ups and downs
The Crimson Tide is 6-1 against teams ranked in the Top 25. The Tide is also just 11-8 against teams not in the Top 25. It has beaten then-No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 17 Auburn, No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 23 Florida and No. 15 Tennessee as well as Rhode Island, which is now ranked. It also has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss, Central Florida, Texas, Missouri and Mississippi State.
There are both lopsided wins and losses on the résumé. For example, Alabama beat Florida 68-50 in Gainesville and romped 78-50 over Tennessee last Saturday. It also lost to Georgia 65-46 and Texas 66-50.
Petty is a good example of a hot-and-cold freshman. Petty made 10 three-pointers against Alabama A&M and eight threes in the win over Auburn. He also went seven straight games scoring in single-digits before scoring 14 points versus Tennessee and 11 against LSU.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Alabama as a No. 7 seed in his latest bracket projections. CBS’ Jerry Palm has the Crimson Tide as a No. 9 seed.
4. Alabama’s strength is its defense
The Crimson Tide is ranked 41st in overall efficiency by Ken Pomeroy. Alabama is ranked just 100th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Alabama is fourth in the SEC and 25th in the nation in field goal defense at 40.5 percent. The Tide is first in the SEC in field goal percentage defense in conference games at 38.8 percent.
Alabama opponents are shooting just 31.2 percent from three-point range, which ranks 19th in three-point defense nationally. Bama is third in the SEC in three-point defense behind Kentucky and Missouri. The Tide is second in three-point defense in conference games (29.7) behind Kentucky (26.4).
Bama leads the SEC in blocked shots at 6.0 per game. Donta Hall is third in the league in blocked shots per game at 2.3. Alabama blocked 12 shots in its win over Trae Young in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
5. Alabama has lost eight straight to Kentucky
The Tide has not beaten UK since 2013 when it knocked off the Cats 59-55 in Tuscaloosa. That was UK’s second straight loss at Alabama under John Calipari, having lost 68-66 at Coleman Coliseum in 2010-11.
Calipari is 13-3 against Alabama all-time and the Crimson Tide hasn’t won in Lexington since a 68-64 victory in Rupp over Tubby Smith’s team on Jan. 14, 2006. The Crimson Tide has lost seven in a row at Rupp since then.
Avery Johnson is 0-5 against Kentucky, including a 78-53 loss on Feb. 23, 2016, in his first and only trip to Rupp Arena as a head coach.
Here’s a note, in the six games Kentucky has lost to Alabama since 2000-01, UK has scored 77 or fewer points in all six.
Alabama at Kentucky
When: Saturday, Feb. 17 at 2 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: CBS with Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt
Alabama men’s basketball 2017-18