The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 85-65 on Tuesday night. It was Alabama’s first win in Rupp Arena since 2006 and indicates a drastic power shift atop the Southeastern Conference. Well, this year, at least.
When people talk about Alabama athletics in January, it usually involves the College Football Playoff National Championship. The Crimson Tide won their 18th football title on Monday—surprisingly tying Yale for the most championships in NCAA history. It’s time to move on, however. We have other sports to worry about, but we don’t have to leave the program.
The Tide’s men’s basketball team has been on a roll of late. Since they dropped a home game against Western Kentucky on Dec. 19, 2020, they’ve won six straight. Five of those wins have been part of SEC play. Alabama currently leads the conference and is 10-3 overall.
Though Kentucky has had an up-and-down season—more of the latter—they had been playing well as of late. The Wildcats had won the first three games of conference play after a dreadful, frankly unheard of, six-game losing streak. It appeared the powerhouse was back. That didn’t last long.
Alabama never trailed on Tuesday night. John Petty Jr. led all scorers with 23 points, and Jaden Shackelford and Joshua Primo added 18 and 12 respectively. The team shot 45.6 percent from the field, including a very solid 46.7 percent beyond the arc.
Though known for their fast-paced offense, their defense was on display as well. The Tide held the Wildcats to a dismal 34.4 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers while allowing just seven assists.
Unfortunately for Alabama, Herbert Jones left the game in the first half with a hand injury. Head Coach Nate Oats explained during his postgame interview that the star forward would be evaluated more today. He added that he didn’t believe Jones’s hand was broken, which is important if the Tide wishes to continue rolling through the SEC.
Alabama sits atop the SEC standings with a 5-0 record. They have no players in the top five of any common conference stat this season. However, as a team, they rank fourth in points per game, second in points scored, and first in three-pointers made. Also, on the defensive side, they have the most steals in the conference. Oats has a complete team effort each game. The program’s signature win this year—which would have been last night if there wasn’t so much doubt surrounding Kentucky—was against No. 7 Tennessee. The Tide defeated the Volunteers 71-63 on Jan. 1 in Knoxville.
Alabama is playing very good basketball at the moment, but the SEC is stacked. The Tide still must travel to LSU, Oklahoma, No. 17 Missouri, and South Carolina. Sprinkle in a few home games against Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky (they can only get better), and LSU, and that’s a tough next few weeks. It sounds a lot worse if you think those are football games.
With that in mind, Alabama is well on its way to earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That’s if, of course, they don’t end up winning the SEC. A strong January can offset any future stumbles or past mishaps—like last month.
Just five weeks ago, it didn’t appear they would be in this position. Their troubles were more covered from what happened on the podium rather than the court, though. On Dec. 10, Oats was criticized by the media for publically calling out Duke’s Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski in regard to his comments about COVID-19.
When asked about Coach K’s suggestion to pause the season earlier in the year, Oats told the press, “Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost the two non-conference games at home he’d still be saying that?”
Timing is everything, and scrutiny is relative. After Oats challenged the decorated Duke coach’s reasoning, the Tide lost to Clemson, barely survived Furman, and then lost to Western Kentucky.
Alabama could have faltered even more, but instead, they rallied.
Alabama hosts a very dangerous Arkansas squad on Jan. 16. Expect a lot of points.
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