Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s win over Alabama

Avery Johnson thought Kentucky's players were 'desperate'

Alabama Coach Avery Johnson on his team’s 81-71 loss to Kentucky.
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Alabama Coach Avery Johnson on his team’s 81-71 loss to Kentucky.

In addition to my column on Jarred Vanderbilt, three takeaways from Kentucky’s 81-71 win over Alabama on Saturday:

1. The Cats win a must-win game

Coaches don’t like the “must-win game” label but surely this applied to Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena. Falling to Alabama would have extended Kentucky’s losing streak to five games. More importantly, it would have dropped the Cats to 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the SEC with a tough road trip to Arkansas on tap for Tuesday.

The Cats responded, playing in a way that Alabama coach Avery Johnson described as “hungry” and “desperate.” UK’s energy level was high from start to finish. Though the home team won by 10 points, it won both halves -- 39-34 first half; 42-37 the second half -- for the first time since the 90-61 rout of Louisville on Dec. 19.

If Kentucky can hold serve at home with wins over Missouri on Saturday and Ole Miss on Feb. 27, UK will be assured of at least a .500 conference season. A win at either Arkansas or at Florida in the regular season finale, coupled with the two home wins, would give Kentucky a winning record in the league and surely clinch an NCAA Tournament berth.

2. Crashing the glass

John Calipari’s UK teams have always been strong on the boards, especially on the offensive boards. That’s not always been the case this season, however.

Kentucky coach John Calipari after his team snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Alabama.

In last Tuesday’s loss at Auburn, UK’s offensive rebound percentage (offensive rebounds divided by offensive rebounds plus opponents defensive rebounds) was just 21.9 percent. In the home loss to Tennessee, UK’s ORP was just 22.6. In the overtime home win over Vanderbilt, Kentucky’s ORP was 28.7 percent. In the loss at South Carolina, the number was a mere 18.8.

Against Alabama, however, Kentucky collected more offensive rebounds (20) than Alabama had defensive rebounds (18). That figured to 52.6 percent, UK’s highest number since, well, its last big win, the 83-76 stunner at West Virginia on Jan. 27. Kentucky’s ORP in Morgantown was 55.33 percent.

Jarred Vanderbilt led the way Saturday with five offensive rebounds in just 19 minutes. Kevin Knox grabbed three. Nick Richards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green and PJ Washington each had two.

Rebound margin was highest since outrebounding Fort Wayne 44-21 way back on Nov. 22.

As we all know, this team can struggle shooting the ball. It hasn’t shot 50 percent from the floor since 53.5 percent at Vanderbilt on Jan. 13. So hitting the offensive glass to generate second and third chances could be key.

3. The overlooked contribution of Quade Green

The freshman point guard from Philadelphia led UK in the first half with nine points and finished with 12 for the game. He was two-of-two from three-point range, dished four assists and did not turn the ball over in 31 minutes.

Over the past four games, Green is six-of-12 from three-point range. The 12 points was just the third game he’s hit double figures since returning from a back injury that forced him to sit three games last month.

The four assists fell one shy of matching his career-high. And there was that particularly pretty thread-the-needle delivery for a Vanderbilt slam and a 71-67 Kentucky lead with 3:14 remaining.

Saturday, Green played quite a bit with fellow point-guard Gilgeous-Alexander. That took som eof the ball handling pressure off SGA, who committed just one turnover in 38 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander also had three steals. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if Calipari uses the two together more.

Kentucky defeated Alabama 81-71 on Saturday to end a four-game slide. The Cats hadn’t won since an 83-81 overtime win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 30.

Kentucky’s shooting percentages game-by-game

Date

Opponent

FG

FGA

Pct

11/10/17

UtahValley

26

66

0.394

11/12/17

Vermont

26

56

0.464

11/14/17

vsKansas

23

55

0.418

11/17/17

ETSU

33

58

0.569

11/20/17

Troy

26

59

0.441

11/22/17

IPFW

33

55

0.600

11/26/17

UIC

42

63

0.667

12/2/17

Harvard

26

56

0.464

12/9/17

vsMonm

31

58

0.534

12/16/17

VaTech

33

68

0.485

12/23/17

vsUCLA

29

68

0.426

12/29/17

Lou

30

62

0.484

12/31/17

Georgia

17

54

0.315

1/3/18

@LSU

31

61

0.508

1/6/18

@Tenn

24

52

0.462

1/9/18

TxA&M

24

43

0.558

1/13/18

@Vandy

23

43

0.535

1/16/18

@S Car

22

49

0.449

1/20/18

Fla

26

65

0.400

1/24/18

MSU

25

58

0.431

1/27/18

@WVU

26

58

0.448

1/30/18

Vandy

29

64

0.453

2/3/18

@Mzz

21

67

0.313

2/6/18

Tenn

19

45

0.422

2/10/18

@TxAM

30

66

0.455

2/14/18

@Aub

25

54

0.463

2/17/18

Ala

28

64

0.438

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