TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Kentucky went from a shootout to a defensive grinder this week, and won both ways.
Now, coach John Calipari and the 15th-ranked Wildcats want to put it all together by the postseason.
Isaiah Briscoe had 11 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to help Kentucky weather one of its lowest scoring outputs and beat Alabama 67-58 on Saturday.
“We were worried about just playing hard, showing energy, having the world look at us and say, `These guys care. These guys can be good defensively,” Calipari said. “But they’ve got to be engaged in it. It’s got to be about defense first, and it was.
“And we stunk offensively.”
The Wildcats (20-5, 10-2 Southeastern Conference), fresh from a 92-85 shootout win over LSU, found a way to win at a much different tempo after dropping three of their last five games.
Malik Monk added 17 points against the Crimson Tide (14-10, 7-5), who were coming off a quadruple-overtime road upset of No. 19 South Carolina.
Monk’s free throws in the final seconds put Kentucky above its season low of 66 points in a loss to No. 17 Florida a week earlier. The Wildcats came in ranked third nationally in scoring at 90.2 points a game.
“This is like, OK, you really zero in on one thing and what happens?” Calipari said. “Like two other things fall apart.”
Bam Adebayo scored 14 points before fouling out with 6:02 left and Kentucky leading 50-39. Briscoe scored nine points after the half, including key baskets down the stretch. He was just 1 of 7 from the free throw line, though.
“My free throws were terrible today, but I just kept playing and didn’t let it bother me,” Briscoe said. “I was able to make big plays at the end.”
Braxton Key led Alabama with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Dazon Ingram scored 12 and Riley Norris nine, but the Tide didn’t get much offensive production beyond them.
Alabama made just 9 of 26 free throws (34.6 percent), and coach Avery Johnson felt his team came out “fearful” against the Wildcats.
“I thought if we held them to 65, 67 points, we could very well win this game but our first half was just pathetic,” Johnson said. “I don’t know another word. I was really disappointed with our effort.”
Briscoe answered with baskets the first two times Alabama closed within seven points in the final minutes. The third time, the Wildcats took over after Key’s basket with 1:05 left cut it to 57-51.
Derek Willis buried a 3-pointer, Monk made a layup and De’Aaron Fox punctuated the decisive swing with a dunk.
The Wildcats held Alabama without a field goal the final 4 minutes of the first half and carried that dominance back from the locker room, too. Kentucky pushed its run to 20-5 and its lead to 18 points early in the second half.
Calipari secured his 23rd consecutive on-court 20-win season, most among active coaches. The Wildcats reached 1,000 straight games with a made 3-pointer.
Alabama had just four assists on 23 baskets. Made a 3-pointer to open the game and missed its next nine attempts. Key broke that drought midway through the second half. Shot 57.7 percent (15 of 26) in the second half. Tide finished 3 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Kentucky’s basketball team not only had a noon tip but was awoken three times by fire alarms at the hotel overnight — all false alarms. The first went off at 3:30 a.m., and Calipari stayed put.
“The fire alarm went off, I was on the third floor,” he said. “The worst that was going to happen to me is jump out that window and break my legs. I’m not going to die from three stories. I never moved.”
Kentucky hosts Tennessee before hitting the road for two more games.
Alabama hits the road for the only time during a current four-game stretch with a visit to Missouri.