No. 25 Alabama takes three-game win streak into Saturday showdown with No. 4 Kentucky

Alabama forward James Rojas (33) drives past Kentucky forward Keion Brooks Jr. (12) for the layup in the Crimson Tide’s 66-55 loss on Feb. 5, 2022.

CW / Davida Franklin

Alabama forward James Rojas (33) drives past Kentucky forward Keion Brooks Jr. (12) for the layup in the Crimson Tide’s 66-55 loss on Feb. 5, 2022.

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

Two weeks ago, the No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats (21-5, 10-3) came into Coleman Coliseum and played a relatively poor game compared to the rest of their performances this season. 

Yet, due to even worse play from Alabama, the Wildcats left Tuscaloosa with a double-digit victory.

On Saturday, No. 25 Alabama (17-9, 7-6) will face the Wildcats again, this time in Lexington, Kentucky. 

The No. 25 Crimson Tide shot 3-for-30 from beyond the arc and 28.1% from the field in the first game, both taking the cake for the worst performance of the season. The team’s 55 points were a season low as well.

Head coach Nate Oats said it’s hard to win games going 3-for-30.

So how did Alabama lose by just 11 points? There were plenty of positive takeaways for the Crimson Tide.

For starters, Alabama held the No. 6 offense in the country, according to KenPom, to just 66 points. The Wildcats shot 24-for-60 from the field. Kentucky is also one of the most physical teams in the country when it comes to rebounding and in the paint, all led by forward Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe was handled for most of the game and made just four field goals of his 13 attempts. The Crimson Tide finished the game with a 47-44 rebound advantage.

If a couple of shots had fallen, Alabama could have very well beaten Kentucky. The good news for the Crimson Tide is that they will get another shot at it.

“Obviously last time it wasn’t our best offensive game,” Alabama forward James Rojas said. “We just got to focus on getting stops, and we’ll be good.”

Since that loss two weeks ago, the Crimson Tide have won three straight over Ole Miss, No. 23 Arkansas and Mississippi State. A Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena will pose a much larger task.

Alabama hasn’t won in a full Rupp Arena since 2006. Last season there was an audience at  limited capacity to see the Crimson Tide beat the Wildcats by 20 in the Bluegrass State. Forward Charles Bediako thinks that this team is more than ready for another challenge.

“Control what you can control, and everything else will take care of itself,” Bediako said. “If we just keep on playing hard and for each other, it can be anyone’s game.”

Even with Tshiebwe’s struggles last time, Oats knows that Tshiebwe still poses a substantial threat.

“We’ve got to do a good job of keeping Charles out of foul trouble,” Oats said. “I do think he [Tshiebwe] has problems scoring over length. But he’s great at getting his own misses.”

Kentucky is coming into Saturday’s game after taking a beating in Knoxville on Tuesday night. The Wildcats were handled from start to finish by Tennessee and potentially lost a key piece in the process. Guard TyTy Washington Jr. has been dealing with injuries since Kentucky’s loss to No. 2 Auburn in late January. Washington is averaging 12.4 points and 4.1 points at the point position. His status for Saturday is to be determined after he got hurt again against the Volunteers.

“It’s not like they get much worse,” Oats said. “Davion Mintz has been playing really well for them.”

Alabama has been looking for player leadership all season, much like what they got from Herbert Jones last season. Oats says as the season has progressed, leaders are stepping forward, especially since the three-game winning streak began.

“We need it,” Oats said. “I think some guys are trying. We have enough talent to beat anyone in the country. But are we playing for each other? The best teams are player-led teams.”

The Crimson Tide will need that leadership in order to win in front of more than 20,000 fans waiting for them in Lexington. Tipoff from Rupp Arena is Saturday, Feb. 19, at noon CT on CBS.