TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No. 15 Kentucky may not be facing the best team in the Southeastern Conference, but Alabama certainly ranks as the most dramatic, fresh off a thrilling, four-overtime upset of first-place South Carolina on Tuesday night in Columbia, S.C.
The Crimson Tide face another difficult challenge when SEC co-leading Kentucky visits on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
“Maybe people that gave up on us after our last home loss, maybe they’ll come back and just see what type of character that our team has,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
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The win over South Carolina came on the heels of an 82-77 home-court loss to arch-rival Auburn before a sold out crowd at Coleman Coliseum.
“We had a deflating loss at home, I mean deflating,” Johnson said. “I challenged these guys. We changed the way we prepare for games. We started off this game pressing more than we ever have. We jumped on them a little bit and that had some momentum for us throughout the game. There was no quit in our team.
“Anybody who was discouraged about Alabama basketball after our last game,” Johnson said, “hopefully this will encourage them.”
It might encourage Crimson Tide fans, but it could discourage Kentucky coach John Calipari, who expects to see the same effort before another sellout crowd in Tuscaloosa.
“It’s unusual for me to tell you that South Carolina got beat to all the 50-50 balls,” Calipari said. “But they got beat to a lot of balls and it shows me that Alabama is going to fight. They’re going to battle.”
The last time the Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 SEC) went on the road, they were embarrassed 88-66 at Florida last Saturday. Seven days later, Calipari is expecting the same approach.
“They’ll probably go at us like Florida did,” Calipari said. “‘Let’s go right at them, let’s punch them in the mouth, let’s shoot balls and forget about missing. Just shoot ’em and we’ll go rebound them. Let’s move the ball a little bit and make them stay in a stance long, see what they do. Throw them into some pick-and-rolls.’
“They’ll probably go off that game plan. Hopefully we’re a little different team than we were from that game down there.”
Alabama (14-9, 7-4) is led by freshman forward Braxton Key at 11.8 points per game. Freshman guard Dazon Ingram checks in at 10.1 points and junior swingman Riley Norris averages 9.0.
“They play,” Calipari said. “They do a lot of isolation post-ups because they’re big. Their guards are 6-7 and 6-8 and their point guard is big. They’re a big team.”
Kentucky is led by freshman guard Malik Monk, who averages 21.9 points. Freshman De’Aaron Fox is next at 16.0 points followed by sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe at 14.0 and freshman forward Bam Adebayo at 12.8.
The Wildcats arrive in town after having beaten LSU 92-85. Kentucky led by 25 points before blowing all but seven points of that lead over the final eight minutes. It led Calipari to conduct a three-hour practice the next day.
“The best thing that happened to us is LSU,” Calipari said. “We were on track, we were going to beat them by 30 and then they make that run the last eight minutes. If we had won by 30, we possibly would have looked at it and said, ‘OK, now we’re right. We’ve got this right.’ By them coming back on us it showed me this ain’t … No. This is not going to work this way.”