The look of frustration was painted on John Petty’s face after yet another fruitless second-half possession.
Alabama’s winning streak was in trouble in what was turning into a Coleman Coliseum rock fight Tuesday night. The hottest team in the SEC suddenly lost its offense, and with Kentucky in town, that’s typically a death sentence.
Yet, with just over 2,000 spread through the cavernous arena, Alabama found just enough juice to overcome a cold shooting night. A 70-59 win came via a 10-0 run when the Wildcats went more than four minutes without a basket down the stretch and kept the Tide’s dream season rolling.
With it, the Alabama winning streak hit 10 for the first time since 1996 and the first game as a top-10 team in 14 years didn’t end in disaster.
Kentucky (5-10, 4-4 SEC) took a 54-52 lead with 4:27 left on Davion Mintz’s 3-pointer from the corner but wouldn’t score again until the final minute. Alabama, meanwhile, scraped together enough offense after going 3-for-14 from the field to start the second half. It was a stunning lack of offense for an Alabama team that scored 105 a week earlier in a 30-point win at LSU.
The 70 points scored by Alabama were the fewest since losing 65-56 to Clemson on Dec. 12.
Alabama moved to 14-3, 9-0 in the SEC having won every game since losing to Western Kentucky on Dec. 19. This is the first time Alabama’s swept Kentucky since the 1988-89 season.
Jaden Shackelford’s 21 led a Tide offense that was just 1-for-4 from the perimeter after halftime. Herbert Jones had 13 points, mostly by making 9 of 10 foul shots. The Tide supplemented its lack of shooting from the field by going 22-for-26 from the foul line in the second half.
Herbert Jones said Kentucky had a good game plan to stop an Alabama offense averaging 13 made 3s a game in the winning streak.
“So we just had to figure out ways to attack it,” said Jones, still slowed by a fall Saturday against Mississippi State but narrowly missed a triple-double with 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
The six made 3s were the fewest since going 3-for-22 in the Clemson loss and the 20 attempts tied a season low.
Alabama coach Nate Oats said they passed up a few too many open jumpers and “over drove the ball” to the rim.
“I thought we saw a little bit of frustration from some of our guys who typically make shots,” Oats said. To go from making twenty-three 3s two games ago to only hitting six is a game we easily could have lost.”
The game started with the flavor of last week’s 105-75 blowout at LSU with Alabama racing to a 13-5 lead. It made the first five shots — three from 3-point range — with Josh Primo scoring seven of the first 10 points. Juwan Gary came off the bench for four quick points at the rim as Alabama appeared to be scoring at will again.
With forward Jordan Bruner still out with a knee injury, James Rojas still coming back from missing a week and Alex Reese banged up, Oats said the redshirt freshman Gary played huge minutes against Kentucky. He finished with six points but played crucial minutes in the paint with a thin front line playing Kentucky’s bigs.
Things took a turn after the hot start when turnovers muddied the action the rest of the half. The Tide missed seven straight 3s and were on a 1-for-11 skid when Jahvon Quinerly beat the halftime buzzer to put the Tide up 35-32 at the break.
Alabama had gone four minutes without a basket at one point as Kentucky went on a slow-bleed 8-0 run to cut what was a nine-point edge to 17-16. The first tie came when Davion Mintz circus 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 1:36 left in the half to make it 30-30.
Kentucky took its first lead with 12:49 left but never grabbed an advantage bigger than two points. Oats credited the visitors for showing heart out there Tuesday night.
“Obviously, they’re struggling and I thought they brought it tonight,” Oats said. “They could have easily folded when we jumped on them early and they didn’t. They fought back.”
Alabama steps outside SEC play Saturday with a road game at Oklahoma as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Oats said he’ll hold off on watching too much tape on the Sooners, at least in the short term.
“I have to do a lot of cleanup from this game because it was disastrous, Oats said, “especially offensively.”