Kentucky has proven it can withstand injuries to key players. It's the young Wildcats' psyche that continues to be in question.
The 16th-ranked Wildcats will likely be short-handed again as they attempt to bounce back from a gut-wrenching loss Tuesday night against visiting Alabama.
Kentucky appeared on its way to a fifth consecutive win without forward Alex Poythress when Isaac Humphries rebounded a Texas A&M miss with the Wildcats ahead by one with nine seconds left in overtime on Saturday. However, the freshman center received a controversial technical foul for slamming the ball to the floor after being fouled, giving the Aggies possession with the game then tied.
The call proved costly, as Tyler Davis scored on a putback at the buzzer to give Texas A&M a 79-77 win and prevent Kentucky (20-7, 10-4 SEC) from moving closer to a conference title.
“He was saying sorry but he really has nothing to be sorry about,” guard Tyler Ulis said of Humphries, who recorded a season-high 12 rebounds. “He was a big help in this game and did his job.”
The loss was the Wildcats' second in overtime, having previously fallen 90-84 at current No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 30. They blew a 21-point lead in their subsequent game, an 84-77 defeat at Tennessee.
Having won 35 straight at Rupp Arena and owning a 77-61 victory at Alabama (16-10, 7-7) on Jan. 9, confidence is likely less of an issue for Kentucky. Health is the more pressing concern with Poythress (knee), the team's top rebounder, uncertain to play Tuesday and sharpshooter Derek Willis doubtful after spraining his right ankle against Texas A&M.
Willis was coming off a career-high 25 points Thursday against Tennessee in which the stretch forward went 7 of 11 from 3-point range. The junior has emerged as a valuable cog to an offense that's averaged 10.2 3-pointers and gone 46.2 percent from beyond the arc in averaging 80.8 points over the last six.
Texas A&M capitalized on Poythress' absence by collecting 20 offensive rebounds and recording 22 second-chance points. The senior also was a factor last month against the Crimson Tide, scoring a career-high 25 on 8-of-10 shooting.
Controlling the boards should be less of an issue against Alabama, tied for 11th in the SEC in rebounding margin and outrebounded 43-25 by the Wildcats in January.
The Crimson Tide got back into the NCAA Tournament conversation by beginning February with five consecutive conference wins, including crucial road ones over Florida and LSU, before having their momentum stalled by Saturday's 67-61 home loss to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs shot 49.1 percent after Alabama held the Gators and Tigers to a combined 33.3 percent.
“We weren't as sharp as we have been on both ends of the floor,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We weren't as consistent as we've been in certain situations. We didn't have the type of energy that we normally have in games recently.”
Alabama, which has lost five straight in Lexington since a 68-64 win in January 2006, is also seeking better balance to an offense that's been heavily reliant on Retin Obasohan, who's averaging 22.1 points over a 10-game stretch and has 57 over his last two.
“I have to do a better job of making sure some of our guys that score for us get more shots and distribute the shot attempts across the board,” Johnson said.
The Tide did receive a season-high 22 from Shannon Hale on Saturday. The senior forward was 4 of 8 from 3 after shooting 21.7 percent from deep over his previous eight.