NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The streak continues, at least as far as Kentucky is concerned.
No. 10-seeded Alabama had no answer for the powerhouse Wildcats inside the royal-blue clad Bridgestone Arena as second-seeded Kentucky rolled to a 73-55 win in the SEC tournament quarterfinals Friday night.
It was the Wildcats’ 12th straight SEC tournament victory over Alabama, including in each of the last four seasons with head coach Avery Johnson at the helm.
In fact, the Tide is now 6-4 in the conference tournament under Johnson, with all four losses coming to Kentucky, which has won the last four SEC tournament championships.
But Friday night’s defeat could be extra costly as it might just burst Alabama’s NCAA tournament bubble hopes heading into Selection Sunday.
“I think it’s ‘to be continued,’” Johnson said. “I think we still have room to grow wherever we land in the postseason, and I’m hoping that’s the NCAA tournament.”
The Crimson Tide (18-15) was widely considered either among the Last Four In or First Four out by most bracketologists, but the 18-point loss to Kentucky — which the Tide beat in the regular season — likely eliminates Alabama altogether.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats (27-5) advance to play Friday evening’s winner between sixth-seeded Mississippi State and third-seeded Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinals.
Three takeaways from the game:
1. Repeat mistakes
All season long, Alabama has seemed helpless amid long shooting droughts that were usually compounded by head-scratching turnovers and overall sloppy play that ultimately doomed it to a season filled with mediocrity.
After Petty’s 3-pointer tied it at 9-9 with 14:35 left, Kentucky opened things up with a 17-2 run of more than four minutes on 6-of-7 shooting while the Tide went cold, missing 7 of 8 field goal tries during that span to fall behind 26-11 entering the final 10 minutes of the first half.
“They came out and put an extreme amount of pressure on us defensively, we didn’t do a great job of getting in our offense,” Johnson said.
The Wildcats did it mostly with defense, recording more blocks (nine) and points off turnovers (eight) in the first 15 minutes of action than Alabama had made field goals (six). In fact, the Tide didn’t record its 10th bucket of the night until Dazon Ingram hit a 3-pointer with 2:24 remaining to cap a 4-for-4 shooting effort that also included eight of Alex Reese’s 10 first-half points.
“They turned us over, they blocked shots — I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game where a team had nine blocked shots in the first half,” Johnson said. “They were active, and we just weren’t efficient on the offensive end and that carried over defensively. We just struggled to score.”
Ingram’s trey cut the Wildcats’ advantage to 33-27 with 2½ minutes left in the first half, but Kentucky responded with six straight points to pull back ahead by 12 with nine seconds remaining.
Alabama committed just 11 turnovers, but seven of those came in the first half, with the Wildcats converting them into a 12-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
2. Reese's spark
As three of Alabama’s Top 4 leading scorers, Donta Hall, Kira Lewis Jr. and Tevin Mack shot a combined 0-of-13 in the first half for zero points.
That meant someone else had to step up, and at least in the first half, that someone was Reese.
Reese made four of his first five field goal tries, including three straight at one point, to keep the Tide in contention with 10 first-half points.
That included back-to-back 3-pointers from Reese that came in the middle of a 16-7 run by the Tide over a seven-minute span that cut what was a 15-point lead to 33-27 after a 3-pointer from Dazon Ingram with 2½ minutes remaining in the opening half.
Hall finished with 14 points, all coming in the second half.
3. Board work
Facing a much bigger — and better — lineup than its previous opponents, Alabama couldn’t repeat its dominating performance on the backboards Saturday, one day after pulling down a season-high 50 rebounds against Ole Miss.
Kentucky controlled the boards on both ends of the court, outrebounding the Tide 42-32 overall and 19-12 in the second half alone. Much of that came on the defensive end with a 30-21 advantage that limited Alabama to just eight second-chance points all night.
Wildcats sophomore center P.J. Washington finished with a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds with four players pulling down at least six rebounds apiece.