In addition to my column, three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s 77-75 loss at Alabama:
1. Pin this loss on the offense.
And no, Eddie Gran was nowhere near Tuscaloosa on Saturday. (I remain a Gran fan, by the way.) But the Cats were let down by their offense in this SEC opener. They averaged a season-low 0.961 points per possession. The previous low was 0.982 in the 80-72 win over North Carolina at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.
A rough start to the second half had much to do with the Cats’ subpar offensive numbers. Up 40-38 at the break, UK quickly fell behind 46-40 just a little over three minutes into the second half. The visitors’ first bucket of the second period came on Immanuel Quickley’s three-pointer at the 17:35 mark.
From another Quickley basket at the 13:33 mark until there was 7:44 left, UK scored just two points, that coming on an EJ Montgomery bucket from the left baseline. Meanwhile, Alabama was on an 11-2 run for a 61-53 lead with 7:55 remaining.
Kentucky’s shooting percentage at that point: five of 19 from the floor for 26.3 percent.
John Calipari’s club wound up shooting 37.1 percent for the second half and 43.1 for the game. But much like the first half drought that hurt UK in its overtime loss to Seton Hall in New York, the second half span in which the Cats struggled to score probably spelled their doom in Tuscaloosa.
2. Got to get it off the glass.
If you’re missing shots, you’ve got to rebound. Kentucky is good at that. Coming into Saturday, UK ranked ninth nationally in offensive rebound percentage, claiming 38.4 percent of their chances to grab an offensive rebounds. Overall, the Cats were outrebounding opponents by an average of 11.7 per game.
First half Saturday, the boards were pretty even. UK had 17 rebounds. Alabama had 16. Second half, far different story. The Tide smashed the Cats on the glass 24-15 to end up with a 40-32 edge on the boards.
Kentucky finished with just six offensive rebounds compared to 33 defensive rebounds for Alabama. That figures to an ORP of 15.4, way below that 38.4 season average. In fact, the 15.4 is UK’s lowest number in that category since, well, the Cats got just 5.3 percent of their offensive rebounds against Alabama in last year’s SEC Tournament.
Ah, but UK shot 64.3 percent in rolling the Tide 86-63 that afternoon semifinal in St. Louis. Coleman Coliseum presented a far different scenario. UK’s shooting suffered. Alabama took the rebounds. (Bama’s Donta Hall had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.) And Kentucky took an L in its SEC opener.
3. The SEC is going to be a long, hard road.
As colleague Jerry Tipton noted in his game story, UK was coming off a pair of tests against North Carolina in Chicago and Louisville at Louisville. Passing both meant nothing, however, when it came to SEC play.
“I think this conference could get nine teams in the NCAA Tournament,” Alabama Coach Avery Johnson after his team’s win.
This was UK’s only game against the Crimson Tide, now 10-3, but the Cats’ schedule features home-and-homes with Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State, Florida and Vanderbilt. Those first three are all ranked. Tennessee opened its SEC schedule Saturday by destroying Georgia 96-50. (That one’s going to sting.)
If UK can’t win at Alabama, can it win at those other places?
The league schedule is going to be a long, hard grind. Saturday proved that. Just a month ago, Alabama blew a 20-point lead and lost at home 83-80 to Georgia State. And the Tide has bounced back to win now five straight, with victories over Arizona and Kentucky.
Tuesday brings Texas A&M to Rupp Arena and the Aggies are struggling. But no game in this conference is going to be a gimme. Especially road games. This young Kentucky team will need to get used to it.