No. 4 Kentucky stuns No. 25 Alabama 90-81 without Washington and Wheeler


Kentucky players celebrate after the UK vs. Alabama mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-81. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Despite playing without its usual starting backcourt, No. 4 Kentucky willed its way past No. 25 Alabama on Saturday, defeating the Crimson Tide 90-81.  

With the win, UK improved to 22-5 (11-3 SEC) on the regular season, while dropping Alabama to 17-10 (7-7 SEC.)   

The Wildcats stunned the Tide without TyTy Washington Jr and Sahvir Wheeler, who were both sidelined due to injury. Despite this, the Cats fought through early adversity to complete its season-sweep over Alabama. 

UK defeated the Tide 66-55 on Feb. 5 in Tuscaloosa. Shooting woes plagued Alabama in round one, as they made just three of 30 3-point attempts en route to shooting 28 percent as a team. That would not be the case in Lexington.  

Alabama led by as much as 13 points in the first half thanks to a whopping nine treys. Senior guard Keon Ellis led the way for Bama from the jump, scoring 17 points on 6-7 shooting in the first 20 minutes.  

Ellis, who finished with a game-high 28 points, knocked down seven 3-pointers inside Rupp Arena on Saturday.  

Kentucky would eventually wake up, closing the half on a 15-2 run, capped off by a Kellan Grady 3-pointer that sent Rupp Arena into a frenzy. UK entered the locker room with a 47-46 lead.  

In the absence of Washington and Wheeler, Kellan Grady turned in a powerful shooting performance, finishing with a season-high 25 points on 9-16 shooting, including seven made 3-pointers. 

“Kellan played out of his mind, he was hitting shots left and right,” UK forward Jacob Toppin said.  

Grady was nullified in Kentucky’s 76-63 loss to Tennessee just four days prior. Bama was unable to take a page out of the Volunteers’ book, as the Davidson transfer erupted against the Tide. He has now scored in double-figures 14 times this season. 

The Wildcats blitzed the Tide in the second half, going on a 20-2 run which increased their lead to as much as 16 points. 

“It shows how good of a team we are, and that we’re well equipped to be able to handle adversity and rise the challenges like today,” Grady said. 

Kentucky shot 56.7 percent as a team in the second half, making 17 of 30 shots. The Tide would make five more 3-pointers, but be unable to keep up with the Cats, who managed to run full speed without their two starting engines. 

National Player of the Year candidate Oscar Tshiebwe recorded his 21st double-double of the season on Saturday, collecting 21 points and 14 rebounds. In usual Tshiebwe fashion, the West Virginia transfer was efficient down low, shooting 9-13 while leading all players in boards.  

“We had to play through Oscar, we had to,” UK head coach John Calipari said.  

Through 27 games this season, Tshiebwe has been held under 10 points just four times.  

Stepping in for Wheeler and Washington in the starting lineup was Toppin and Davion Mintz.  

Toppin, who has maintained the role of sparkplug for Kentucky, scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in 39 minutes, a season-high for the junior.  

Mintz would also log plenty of playing time on Saturday, playing 38 minutes, scoring seven points. All five of UK’s starters played at least 35 minutes.  

While the Cats managed to prosper without their two top guards, Calipari is unsure when he’ll have a full-strength squad again.  

“They may be out another couple games. I need them healthy before March. We don’t need them to play hurt,” Calipari said.  

If Kentucky is to trek onward two men down, they feel as though they have the depth necessary to win any game against any team. 

“We have all the tools that we need to win games, so this is definitely preparing us for March,” Toppin said.  

Up next for the Wildcats is an opportunity for revenge, as LSU will head to Lexington.  

Calipari feels as though his group is starting to peak at the right time.  

“The whole locker room, they were happy with each other,” he said. “If this group chooses to play to win, we’ll have a chance.” 

Tip-off between the Wildcats and Tigers is set for 9 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Feb. 23 inside Rupp Arena.