Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Alabama

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Alabama

by Tim Letcher

Kentucky and Alabama meet in a clash of nationally-ranked teams on Saturday at Rupp Arena. The Cats are ranked 17th in the country, while the Crimson Tide check in at number 13.

The two teams are also among the highest scoring teams in the country. Alabama leads the nation in scoring, averaging 91 points per game. Kentucky is third, posting 87.6 points per contest.

While it would seem logical that the teams would simply try to outscore each other, that’s not the plan for the Cats, according to Rob Dillingham. The freshman said he thinks the game will be decided by another factor.

“Defense. For sure defense because we can both score,” Dillingham said. “So, it’s really based on who plays defense and who gets rebounds. We can’t let them outrebound us and we’ve got to play defense if we want to win.”

Kentucky’s defense played well last week in wins over Ole Miss and Auburn. It looked like that trend would continue on Wednesday night, as UK held LSU to just 27 points in the first half. However, the Tigers got hot in the second half and scored 48 points to rally past the Cats. What happened in the second half on Wednesday?

“I would say intensity, fatigue,” Dillingham said. “It’s no different, we should have played better defense.”

What can the Cats learn from a loss like the one they experienced on Wednesday?

“Really locking in on the little things,” Dillingham said. “It helps us prepare for those bigger games.”

Make no mistake, Saturday’s game is a big game. Alabama is currently first in the Southeastern Conference standings with an 11-2 mark. Kentucky is tied for fifth at 8-5. Not only that, but the Tide would like nothing better than to come into Rupp Arena and beat the Cats. Dillingham said that UK needs to be up for the task

“For sure. I feel like we take every game as a challenge,” he said. “But coming into our gym, I feel like we should take it as a challenge.”

Tipoff for Saturday’s game is at 4 p.m. ET and it can be seen on CBS.

Last Time Out: LSU Recap

LSU got a putback basket from Tyrell Ward as time expired and the Tigers upset No. 17 Kentucky 75-74 on Wednesday inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Antonio Reeves led Kentucky with 25 points, including the 1,000th point of his UK career. It was Reeves’ 14th 20-point game this season. Rob Dillingham had 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half.

Kentucky (18-8, 8-5 Southeastern Conference) scored the first four points of the game on an Ugonna Onyenso dunk and an Adou Thiero layup. LSU would get within one, 4-3, when Reeves scored nine in a row for the Cats, who took a 13-8 lead early.

LSU (14-12, 6-7) responded with an 11-3 run to take a 19-16 advantage with 12:58 left in the half. Kentucky would tie the game at 22-22 when Thiero scored the second of two consecutive baskets. UK would take the lead on a Reeves layup but LSU scored the next four to lead 26-24.

That’s when Kentucky got it going on both ends of the floor. Reed Sheppard and Reeves combined to score all nine points in a 9-1 run that gave the Cats a 33-27 lead and forced an LSU timeout. The run continued after the timeout when Sheppard found Justin Edwards for a right-wing three, completing the 12-1 run and giving UK a 36-27 lead, which would be the halftime score. Reeves led all scorers with 16 points in the first half.

The halftime break did not cool off the Kentucky offense. UK got another Edwards three, then another Reeves three, to extend the lead to 42-27, forcing an LSU timeout less than a minute into the second half.

LSU would respond after the break in the action. The Tigers went on a 17-2 run to take the lead back, 48-46. Sheppard would drive and make a layup, and was fouled in the process. The freshman made the free throw and UK led 49-48 with 13:00 to play.

The lead lasted less than a minute, as LSU scored six in a row to lead 54-49. UK finally got a layup from Rob Dillingham. After a pair of LSU free throws, Dillingham hit a three from the top of the key to get the Cats within two, 56-54.

After an LSU free throw made it 58-54, Reeves hit a pair of free throws, the first of which was his 1,000th point at UK, to get the Cats within one, 57-56. Kentucky would take the lead on a pair of Dillingham free throws, but LSU took it right back, scoring four in a row to lead 61-58 with 7:25 remaining.

Dillingham continued his scoring surge with a layup that got the Cats within one, 61-60. A Will Baker layup extended the LSU lead to 63-60. A Thiero dunk got Kentucky within one, 63-62, but LSU got a three from Mike Williams to lead 66-62.

Another Dillingham layup cut the deficit to two, 66-64, but LSU got a Williams free throw to lead 67-64. Dillingham then hit a three to tie the game at 67 apiece with 2:32 to play.

Jalen Reed scored inside to give LSU a 69-67 lead, but Dillingham hit two free throws to tie the game at 69-69 with 2:01 to play.

Baker hit a three to give LSU a 72-69 advantage with 1:10 to play. Kentucky would miss a pair of shots on its next possession, and LSU got a Reed free throw to lead 73-69 with 1:04 to play.

Dillingham then went to the basket, threw up an acrobatic shot that went in, and he was fouled. The free throw made it 73-72 Tigers with 53 seconds left.

After Kentucky got a defensive stop, Dillingham hit an off balance jumper to give the Cats a 74-73 lead with 13 seconds left.

That set the stage for Ward’s heroics as time expired.

Big-Game Cal, Cats

Some notes about Cal’s teams against the best of the best:

• Not only does Kentucky own a 72-51 record (58.5%) vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams under John Calipari, UK is 7-5 when both teams are ranked in the AP top five
• All-time, Calipari is 13-9 when both teams are ranked in the AP top five
• When both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, Calipari’s alltime record is 92-68, including a 61-40 mark at Kentucky
• When both are ranked in the top 10 he has a 27-23 record, including 16-16 at UK
• By defeating top-ranked Michigan State to start the 2019-20 season, UK knocked off the No. 1 team in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Kentucky downed Tennessee on Feb. 19, 2019
• With the win over MSU to begin 2019-20, the Wildcats have nine victories over the No. 1 team in 24 tries in program history
• Calipari is 6-5 all-time against the No. 1 ranked team

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