Alabama 68, Kentucky 64
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Jermareo Davidson is quickly helping Alabama adjust to life without Chuck Davis.
The junior center had 18 of his career-high 28 points in the second half to lead the Crimson Tide to a 68-64 victory Saturday over Kentucky, whose free fall continued with a third straight loss—the last two at home.
It is the first time Kentucky lost two straight in Rupp Arena since 1989. The Wildcats were blown out a week ago at Kansas in the worst loss in coach Tubby Smith’s nine seasons, then lost Tuesday in Vanderbilt’s only win ever at Rupp Arena. Kentucky dropped out of the Top 25 last week, snapping the nation’s second-longest current streak of poll appearances.
“Its a gut-wrenching thing and it will continue to snowball if we don’t get it under control,” Smith said.
Davidson’s play provided a major boost for Alabama (9-6, 2-1 Southeastern Conference), which will have to play the rest of the season without Davis, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament last Saturday against Mississippi. The senior foward was a candidate for national player of the year honors, and without him the Crimson Tide lost to Ole Miss before bouncing back to defeat archrival Auburn on Sunday.
“We just wanted to come out and play hard for him,” Davidson said. “We realized that it can be over any day now, so we feed off him.”
The victory was only the 10th by Alabama in 60 meetings with the Wildcats in Lexington. Kentucky (10-6, 0-2) hadn’t lost three straight since 1999.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. “I think our players just decided to rally, play hard and do everything they can to give themselves a chance to win.”
Davidson dominated a late 12-0 run for the Tide, and both teams had 10-0 runs earlier. There were 12 lead changes.
Smith, concerned about Alabama’s size advantage, started a bigger lineup that out-rebounded the Tide 32-21. But in the end, there was no answer for Davidson, who seemed to make every big shot and gave Alabama its lead for good with a minute left, scoring on a three-point play.
Ronald Steele had 14 points and Brandon Hollinger added 10 for the Crimson Tide.
The Wildcats had led 64-63 on consecutive 3-pointers by Ramel Bradley and Ravi Moss and a driving layup by Rajon Rondo. Bradley later missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game and Kentucky was called for a shot-clock violation on another key possession.
“I think we’re playing better, we just need to focus at the end of the game,” Kentucky guard Joe Crawford said. “I don’t think we’re as aggressive as we are in the first half. We were attacking the basket more.”
Most of the first-half offense came from Randolph Morris, who was suspended for the first 14 games of the season because of his association with a sports agency. He made his first start and led Kentucky with 19 points.
But, he was also the victim of many of Davidson’s dunks and layups in the second half.
The cold shooting that has plagued Kentucky the last few games was a problem early as Alabama’s inside pressure forced the Wildcats to miss 12 of their first 15 shots. But it was the unguarded ones—free throws—that kept them in the game.
Alabama got into foul trouble, including three early ones by both Evan Brock and Jean Felix, and the Wildcats went 9-for-9 from the free throw line in the first half.
Morris had five of those, and his thundering dunk midway through the half ignited the crowd and put Kentucky ahead 16-14. The dunk was part of a 10-0 run for the Wildcats, but the Crimson Tide followed shortly thereafter with a 10-0 run of its own to regain the lead early in the second half. The 12-0 run came later.
Alabama shot 54 percent—only the fourth time in 82 games that a Kentucky opponent has made more than half its shots.