No. 1 Kentucky now the only unbeaten team, tops Alabama
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) To hear Kentucky coach John Calipari tell it, being the nation's only unbeaten team in men's basketball simply means the target on the No. 1 Wildcats only gets bigger and the scrutiny is bound to increase.
The goal is staying undefeated in March and April, but the challenge doesn't seem to faze Kentucky after a season-best 59 percent shooting performance that put away Alabama.
Karl-Anthony Towns got off to a quick start and the Wildcats topped the Crimson Tide 70-55 Saturday night to complete a season sweep. Coupled with No. 2 Virginia's 69-63 loss to No. 4 Duke, Kentucky (21-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) will likely attract more attention in its quest for perfection.
Calipari's point was keeping things in perspective.
''We are playing every game to win,'' Calipari said. ''I told them last night, `We lose today, we are 20-1. ... You lose in March, your season is over.' Right now, you should just find out how good you can be.
''I had a team at UMass that started the season like this. I had a team at Memphis that started the season like this. Both of those teams took an `L' by the end of the year and were the best versions of themselves by the end of the year. I would rather for them to win them all but if they don't, they don't. Just as long as we are getting better.''
That Massachusetts team lost to Kentucky in the 1996 Final Four, and his Memphis squad fell to Kansas in overtime in the 2008 championship game.
Kentucky wasn't perfect against Alabama (13-8, 3-5) but was impressive in many areas while posting its third straight win by at least 15 points.
Two weeks after romping 70-48 in Tuscaloosa, the Wildcats made 24 of 41 from the field to surpass their previous best of 58 percent against Boston University on Nov. 21. They also controlled the paint 28-14 while their bench dominated the Tide 31-8.
Kentucky also committed just five turnovers while forcing Alabama (13-8, 3-5) into 13 mistakes that resulted in 20 points.
Towns scored all 12 of his points in the first half to put Kentucky ahead. Willie Cauley-Stein snapped out of a mini-slump with 12 points and four rebounds, Devin Booker added 11 points with three 3-pointers and Aaron Harrison had 10.
Shannon Hale's 13 points led the Crimson Tide, who shot 46 percent but fell behind as Towns made all four shots to get Kentucky started. But that was the highlight for the 6-foot-11 freshman, who fouled out with just one rebound.
''You have to keep playing through a lot of things that happen in the second half, no excuses and just keep going,'' Towns said. ''I have to make sure I play the same game I played in the first half.''
Kentucky blocked just one shot for the second consecutive game but had five steals.
Levi Randolph added 12 points and Retin Obasohan 11 for Alabama, which played without No. 2 scorer Ricky Tarrant because of a leg injury.
Tarrant's presence probably wouldn't have helped Alabama avenge that earlier loss, but his absence certainly didn't help. That left it to leading scorer Randolph (14.7 points per game coming in) to carry the Crimson Tide, and he did his part by making 5 of 10 from the field with three rebounds.
His scoring turned out to be a mere footnote as Kentucky quickly rolled to a double-digit lead and positioned itself to blow out Alabama before settling for a 37-24 advantage at the break.
''The first 10 minutes of the game probably proved to be the difference,'' Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.
Kentucky sophomore forward Marcus Lee had eight points and five rebounds and displayed the energy that Calipari was seeking when he swooped in to tip in Dakari Johnson's missed free throw early in the first half.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide outrebounded Kentucky 26-21. ... Alabama has lost 13 of its last 15 games in Lexington, including six in a row.
Kentucky: The Wildcats' turnover total was just one off their season low against Columbia on Dec. 10. ... They are just two wins away from the program's second-best start of 23-0 in 1965-66. ... Kentucky was 7 of 15 from 3-point range.
Alabama: Hosts Missouri on Wednesday.
Kentucky: Hosts Georgia on Tuesday.