John Calipari was happy with the way his young Kentucky team
performed in its SEC tournament opener.
While his freshmen played well under pressure, they now need to
avoid being pushed around again by Alabama.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats look to avenge an earlier loss to the
Crimson Tide when they meet in Saturday’s semifinals at the Georgia
Kentucky (23-8) never trailed in Friday’s 75-66 win over
Mississippi, but the outcome was in doubt until the final minute.
Brandon Knight made five free throws in the final 41 seconds to
help the defending tournament champion Wildcats hold off a Rebels
team that trailed by two points with less than 90 seconds
“First tournament game for a young team, happy we get out with a
win,” Calipari said. “I kept telling them late in the game, I’m
really happy this is a close game because we’re going to be in some
other ones. And we need this.”
Knight had 17 points, six rebounds and six assists, and fellow
freshman Doron Lamb scored 19 to lead the Wildcats to their sixth
win in seven games.
Calipari believes his team, which features three freshmen in the
starting lineup, has come a long way since suffering a 68-66 loss
at Alabama (21-10) on Jan. 18.
Kentucky rallied from 20 points down with 15:30 remaining in
that game and had a chance to win, but freshman Terrence Jones
missed a 3-pointer from midcourt at the buzzer.
Although the Wildcats nearly pulled it out, Calipari still feels
his team was blown out.
“Alabama had us down 20 down there,” he said after Friday’s win.
“Don’t look at the final score. They smashed us. And we made a
little run and made some shots. So we’re going against a team that
Following that loss, Calipari said his team was
The Crimson Tide, the conference leaders in scoring defense at
58.8 points per game and field goal defense at 38.0 percent,
limited the Wildcats to 37.7 percent shooting and outrebounded them
41-34. Lamb finished with 16 points but missed 9 of 14 shots, while
Knight scored 14 while missing 10 of 15.
Alabama was led by its frontcourt, with JaMychal Green finishing
with 18 points and 11 rebounds and fellow forward Tony Mitchell
scoring 15 and grabbing seven boards.
“They’re really physical, they’re really great defensively,”
Calipari said. “We know how hard it’s going to be.”
Calipari, though, may like his team’s chances in the rematch. He
said the Wildcats have improved “as much as any team, maybe more
than any team in the country.”
The Crimson Tide needed an improbable comeback to reach the SEC
tournament semifinals for the first time since 2005.
Alabama rallied from 14 points down in the final seven minutes
of regulation and stunned Georgia with a 65-59 overtime victory
Green had 20 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Crimson Tide,
who lucked out when Bulldogs coach Mark Fox signaled timeout just
before Dustin Ware hit what would have been a winning 3-pointer
just ahead of the buzzer at the end of regulation.
The win gave Alabama a significant boost in earning an NCAA
“The fight our guys showed was incredible,” coach Anthony Grant
said. “We were promised one game. We want to be in for the
The Crimson Tide, who lost 73-67 to Kentucky in last season’s
quarterfinals, haven’t advanced to the SEC title game since losing
to Mississippi State in 2002.