No. 2 Kentucky holds on to beat Alabama
Despite improvement by programs like Vanderbilt, Georgia and Mississippi State, Southeastern Conference basketball is still Kentucky and everybody else.
The No. 2 Wildcats made that point again at home Saturday during a 77-71 victory over a strong, defense-minded Alabama team that entered the game leading the SEC in fewest points allowed (56.4). The 'Cats won despite the Tide effectively shutting down big Anthony Davis underneath in the first half. Davis shot only 1-for-9 from the field and scored three points before halftime.
But the Wildcats are like a raging river: Dam them up in one spot, and they will break past you in another. In this case, Kentucky hit the Alabama defense from every conceivable direction as six players scored in double digit.
Terrence Jones scored 15, Doron Lamb 14 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 13. Davis rallied in the second half to tie Darius Miller with 11. Freshman point guard Marquis Teague finished the afternoon with 10 points, none more crucial than the two free throws he buried with 40 seconds remaining to give the 'Cats a two possession lead and, effectively, put away the game.
John Calipari has a knack for getting the most out of young players, and Teague is no exception. The first-year player is averaging more than 10 points and four assists a game. But more than Teague's scoring, Coach Cal is impressed by how the youngster manages the floor.
"He's the starting point guard on the No. 2 team in the country," Calipari said of Teague. "He's had points of the game where he's dominated the game, and he's still learning the position, and we're getting everybody's best shot."
Perhaps the greatest thing for Kentucky fans is the fact Teague isn't putting up All-America numbers as a freshman, which means he might actually be around for another season or two. Coach Cal's past four point guards were one-and-done, becoming NBA lottery picks after one year of college.
Those guys — Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight — put up better numbers than Teague. But this freshman is mature beyond his years, as evidenced by how he managed the offense against Alabama and found open looks for Jones and Lamb when it became obvious the Tide had keyed on Davis.
Lamb didn't start, yielding again to Miller, but Calipari insists nothing should be read into the temporary benching. "We have six starters," the coach said.
But he has also made clear that the competition his players face from their own teammates will be at least as fierce as what they see from opposing teams.
"I want to see guys battling," Calipari told the Kentucky media Friday. "I was talking to a friend of mine about how a lot of young people are never cut as seventh- or eighth-graders. Everyone is playing the same amount of time and everyone thinks they're equal — and then when you move up and there is never any pressure. Now you come in here, and it's on: You're in a dogfight."
Saturday's game wasn't much of a dogfight, even though it was a one-possession game inside a minute. JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford kept ‘Bama in it — Green with 22 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs, and Releford with 17 points, all in the second half. But in the final 60 seconds, Miller madet four free throws for the 'Cats and Teague went 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. Davis also hit made free throws in the last minute, pressure baskets that the Kentucky players buried like a backyard game of Horse.
"That's one advantage our kids have and part of the Kentucky effect," Calipari said. "You're under the gun here and you are challenged by other good players and you have to fight. You want it worse than him? Take it, because he wants it, too."