LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Antwain Barbour’s season of struggle had a moment of triumph on Tuesday night.
Barbour, making his second start of the season, scored a career-high 23 points as No. 8 Kentucky beat Alabama 66-55 to remain atop the Southeastern Conference East.
Barbour, who started in place of the injured Gerald Fitch, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, went 10-of-13 from the field and had five rebounds for Kentucky (17-3, 7-2), which handed Alabama (11-9, 3-6) its fifth straight loss.
“Gerald’s injury gave him the opportunity to come into the lineup and play with confidence,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said of Barbour.
“That’s something we expect from Antwain. When he is knocking down shots from outside, he’s just that much more dangerous of a threat. Tonight he really impressed me doing many things. He proved he was the best player on the floor.”
Alabama entered the game leading the SEC in 3-point shooting at 37.9 percent but the Crimson Tide finished 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) against the Wildcats. Leading scorer Kennedy Winston, who had 68 points in the Crimson Tide’s previous three games, finished with 12 on 3-of-13 shooting.
Earnest Shelton scored 13 points to lead Alabama, which had won two of its previous three meetings against Kentucky, including one in Lexington.
“They defended us tonight better than we had been defended all season,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. “We got the ball around the basket a number of times but couldn’t get the points.”
Barbour’s previous career high was 13 points, which came in his first NCAA Division I game, last season against Arizona State. He matched that just 11 1/2 minutes into Tuesday’s game, as he scored Kentucky’s first 13 points.
He had six points in an 11-2 second-half run as Kentucky pulled away from a two-point lead. His layup with 11:49 left put Kentucky ahead 45-34, and the Crimson Tide came no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“I was trying to play and keep us in the game,” Barbour said. “Fitch just told me, now is my time. He’s been telling me all along to have fun and play. I’ve got the poise. I never try to put pressure on myself. It just makes things worse.”
Barbour started four games last season, but struggled with consistency and confidence after a broken hand sidelined him for more than a month.
Those struggles carried over into the first part of his senior season, as Barbour missed two exhibition games and the season opener when Smith suspended him following an offseason traffic stop.
Until he made his first start of the season against No. 25 South Carolina on Saturday, Barbour had played fewer than 10 minutes in six of Kentucky’s previous nine games. Still, Smith said there was no doubt who would replace Fitch in the starting lineup when he strained a ligament in his right (shooting) hand.
Barbour scored 10 points and had a game-winning three-point play as Kentucky beat South Carolina 65-64. In the Wildcats’ previous home game, Barbour hit four 3-pointers and scored 12 points in a 71-61 win over Mississippi.
“Right now, my confidence is sky-high,” Barbour said.
Kentucky had four turnovers on its first six possessions and started 2-of-13 from the field as Alabama took a 13-4 lead.
Barbour almost single-handedly closed that gap. The first points by a Kentucky player other than Barbour came with 8:09 left in the first half when Erik Daniels hit a 14-foot jumper to tie the game at 15.
Kentucky took the lead for good at 25-22 on a three-point play by Chuck Hayes with 3:07 left in the half. Hayes wrested the ball from Winston and drove the length of the court for a layup.
Cliff Hawkins scored 13 points and Hayes added 12 for Kentucky, which finished with only nine turnovers.