Kentucky 79, Alabama 67
ATLANTA (AP)—Kentucky would have preferred to wait another day to start the Southeastern Conference tournament. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they were at a place that feels just like home.
Ramel Bradley and Randolph Morris scored 17 points apiece to lead five players in double figures and Kentucky romped to another victory in Atlanta, overcoming a slow start to beat Alabama 79-67 in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
The Wildcats (21-10) solidified their expected NCAA berth in a season that hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. They finished fourth in the SEC East, forcing them to play on the opening day of the tournament for the second year in a row.
But Kentucky always seems to do well at the Georgia Dome, winning for the 19th time in 23 appearances at the football stadium-turned-basketball arena that is a frequent host of the SEC tournament.
After Alabama (20-11) raced to a 21-11 lead just past the midway point of the first half, the Wildcats put in a smaller, quicker lineup that took command with a 13-0 run, capped off by Morris’ dunk. Bouncing back from a 3-of-15 shooting start, Kentucky made 11 of its last 15 attempts in the first half.
The Crimson Tide claimed its last lead at 27-24, but Kentucky responded with three straight 3-pointers—two by Bradley, another by Jodie Meeks. The Wildcats closed the half with an 11-0 spurt for a 35-27 lead at the break.
Kentucky pulled away with yet another run in the second half. Bradley hit a jumper, then another 3 to spark a 9-0 run that put the Wildcats up 61-47. Alabama never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Joe Crawford added 16 points for Kentucky, while Meeks had 12 and Bobby Perry 10.
“We’re a much more dangerous team when everybody’s scoring,” Bradley said.
Meeks, a freshman guard from the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, energized the Wildcats during his 24 minutes on the court.
“He’s instant offense when he comes in there,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “He plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of heart.”
Morris took care of things on the inside, also pulling down 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season. The Wildcats controlled the boards 34-26, pulling down 13 at the offensive end.
The loss likely cost the Crimson Tide, which got as high as No. 4 in The Associated Press rankings early in the season, any hope of making the NCAA tournament. Alabama will go down as one of the year’s biggest disappointments, the slide caused by injuries, erratic play and a lack of toughness.
“You hold out that last glimmer of hope,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “But if we get invited to the NIT, we’ll give it our best shot.”
Richard Hendrix led Alabama with 21 points. Alonzo Gee had 15 and Jamareo Davidson, who played with a bad back, managed 12. Point guard Ronald Steele played only 12 minutes because of an ailing knee; he was held to 2 points and one assist.
“I was in a lot of pain,” said Steele, who missed the final two games of the regular season. “I wasn’t able to move or be effective.”