No. 2 Kentucky holds on to beat Alabama, 77-71
Alabama's plan to beat Kentucky involved swarming freshman Anthony Davis.
The only place he and the rest of the Wildcats found some elbow room was at the free-throw line.
Terrence Jones scored 15 points and No. 2 Kentucky hit all eight of its free throws in the final minute to hold on to beat Alabama 77-71 on Saturday for the Wildcats' 47th straight home victory.
''That's one of the more physical games I've played. It's going to get worse. I've just got to fight through it,'' said Davis, who finished 2 of 10 from the field and 7 of 9 from the free-throw line for 11 points. ''There's going to be other teams just like that. There's not going to be any games off - Vanderbilt, Florida, Georgia. They're all going to be games where we have to come out and be physical.''
Kentucky (19-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) took the lead for good early in the first half, but Alabama's Trevor Releford scored all 17 of his points in the second half to keep the Crimson Tide (13-6, 2-3) close until the end.
''We came into the game and we knew we had to be physical and hit them because they're athletic and long in the front court,'' Alabama's JaMychal Green said. ''Our focus mainly was hitting them, being physical and rebounding.''
All of Alabama's hitting turned into foul shots and the teams combined for 45 fouls called.
Jones made Kentucky's final field goal with 6:57 left, but the Wildcats hit 23 of 29 second-half free-throw attempts and scored their final 15 points from the free-throw line.
Green had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Trevor Lacey added 10 points for Alabama, which lost its third in a row, but may have provided a blueprint for how to slow the Wildcats.
''I always kept a body on Davis if he rolled to the goal because we watched him play,'' Green said. ''We saw a lot of lobs and dunks, so we knew that's how he scored. We just kept him off the boards.''
But not out of the box score.
Leading 75-71 in the closing seconds, Davis blocked his fourth shot of the game and grabbed his ninth rebound when Charles Hankerson drove into the lane. Davis was fouled with 4.5 seconds left and made both his free throws for the final margin.
''Somebody's hip was on him 24-7 until the game ended,'' Kentucky coach John Calipari said. ''As a matter of fact, they put a hip on him in the postgame handshake, too.''
That provided the Wildcats' other opportunities to score.
Doron Lamb had 14 points, freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 13, Darius Miller 11 and freshman Marquis Teague 10 for the Wildcats.
With 1:06 left, Kidd-Gilchrist fouled out trying to stop Andrew Steele, who hit two free throws that cut Kentucky's lead to 69-67.
The teams traded free throws with Miller making two foul shots and Green added two more with 37 seconds to play. Teague hit two and Steele answered with two more when Lamb fouled him on the inbounds pass with 24 seconds to go that cut it to 73-71.
But Miller hit two more free throws with 14 seconds to play before Davis' block. He set the school's single-season block record in Kentucky's previous win against Arkansas and added to his nation's leading blocks total.
''It was a rough game,'' said Davis, who has 93 blocks this year. ''We had to fight through it, grind it out and that's what we did.''
Releford rallied the Crimson Tide and Alabama trailed 49-48 with 12:37 left, but never took the lead despite Releford's scooping layup just beyond Davis' attempted block off the glass and then his floater that rattled around the rim and fell that cut Kentucky's lead to 55-52.
Jones' jumper made it 62-57 with 6:57 left, but Kentucky wouldn't score again from the field. The Wildcats fouled out Alabama's leading scorer and rebounder Tony Mitchell with 5:32 left.
Mitchell scored six points on 2-of-9 shooting for his second straight subpar performance after failing to score in 31 minutes in a loss to Vanderbilt.
Kentucky lost to Alabama last year on the road, but avenged it with a victory in the SEC tournament and got off to a fast start against the Crimson Tide in this one, too.
After Alabama took an early 5-1 lead, Kidd-Gilchrist sparked Kentucky on a 15-3 run that they never relinquish.
Davis missed his first seven shots before he followed up a miss by Teague with a dunk that gave Kentucky a five-point lead. The Wildcats maintained that advantage, taking a 37-32 lead into the break that they managed to hold onto throughout the foul-filled second half.
''Especially at the start, we weren't able to play through the physical play,'' Calipari said. ''Until we learn to do that, every team's going to play us that way.''