Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball: Double-digit notes from a double-digit win

Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) went in for a first half dunk as Kentucky played Alabama on Saturday January 9, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, AL.
Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) went in for a first half dunk as Kentucky played Alabama on Saturday January 9, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, AL. Lexington Herald-Leader

Double-digits points from Kentucky's double-digit road win at Alabama:

1. Kentucky was really good on offense

The Cats shot 54.9 percent, its highest percentage since shooting 56 percent against Albany in the opener. Alabama isn't great, but the Tide is better than Albany.

UK averaged 1.237 points per possession, its second-best offensive efficiency number of the year. UK averaged 1.253 in the win over South Florida in Miami the day after Thanksgiving.

2. Alex Poythress’ free throw number

As I wrote in my column, the biggest stat of the game wasn't the senior's career-high 25 points; it was the senior's career-high 11 free throw attempts. (Poythress made nine.) That number showed that the 6-foot-8 forward was active from start to finish.

Poythress scored 17 points in the first half, eight in the second. He had four turnovers and no assists, which John Calipari mentioned in the post game press conference, but still, the senior topped his previous scoring high of 22 points against Lafayette and LIU-Brooklyn in 2012.

3. Better on the boards

After being outrebounded by 14 at LSU, Kentucky rebounded -- get it -- to beat Alabama 43-25 on the boards Saturday. The Cats looked much more like a John Caliapri team when it came to attacking the glass.

The Cats offensive rebound percentage was 45.2, compared to 26.8 against LSU. Kentucky grabbed 14 offensive rebounds compared to 17 defensive rebounds for the Crimson Tide. Marcus Lee led the way with 11 boards overall and five offensive rebounds. Poythress had three boards.

4. A slower pace

By the way, the numbers showed that this was the slowest-paced game UK has played all season. The numbers figured to the Cats having 62.3 possessions. The previous low for this year was 67 against South Florida.

Alabama coach Avery Johnson indicated afterward that he was surprised that his team took the shot clock down near the buzzer on several occasions, but at times that appeared to be Alabama's strategy.

5. Kentucky didn't settle for threes

One thing that may have helped UK’s offensive efficiency was the fact the Cats didn’t settle for three-pointers. Kentucky took a season-low nine three-pointers, making two.

In direction portion to not settling for threes, Kentucky outscored Alabama in the paint 34-20. This was after being outscored in the paint 44-24 by LSU. And as we stated earlier, UK shot 54.9 percent for the game.

6. Jamal Murray’s 21 points

With the play of Poythress and Lee, Jamal Murray's 21 points sort of got lost in the shuffle. The freshman hit seven of 13 shots and was a perfect six-of-six from the foul line.

In fact, Poythress and Murray combined for the Cats' first 27 points. Murry had 14 and Poythress 13 as UK jumped to a 27-17 lead. It wasn't until Tyler Ulis' basket with 3:54 left in the first half that another Cat scored.

7. Skal Labissiere gets a technical foul

The freshman center was on the floor just four minutes and most of those were bizarre. He picked up three fouls, including a technical with 13:41 left in the first half when he got into a skirmish and exchanged words with some Tide players.

Labissiere played just one minute in the second half and failed to score for the game. He did have one rebound.

8. Alabama will be better with Avery

I like Avery Johnson, the Tide’s first-year coach. I like his NBA background. I like the fact he wants to promote an exciting style of play that will get the football-crazed Bama faithful interested in hoops again.

It will just take time, of course. Johnson is teaching new systems to a team that lacks overall talent. Retin Obasohan, who scored 23 points, can play, but Alabama was surely hurt by the loss of freshman point guard Dazon Ingram to a broken foot. He's out for the year.

9. Biding time for Monday night

There were few empty seats in Coleman Coliseum. The announced crowd was 15,383. And when Alabama cut the UK lead to 58-54 with 8:57 left, the Tide faithful made plenty of noise.

Still, you got the feeling that this basketball game was just a way to pass the time before Monday night's big event: Alabama vs. Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game.

(I like Alabama in that one, by the way.)

10. A little easier (perhaps) path next week

UK comes home Tuesday night to face a Mississippi State team that has struggled all year long. It's going to take some time for Ben Howland to get things turned around in Starkville.

Next Saturday, the Cats travel to Auburn to face Bruce Pearl's Tigers. Auburn has also struggled and it's a road game. But the Cats have now proved they can win on the road.

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