Kentucky looks to continue its winning ways on the road against wild card Alabama


Kentucky Wildcats guard Kellan Grady (31) shoots a 3-point shot during the UK vs. Kansas basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. UK won 80-62. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke

Despite coming out on top 80-62 in one of its biggest tests of the season, the tough games are far from behind the newly No. 5 Kentucky.

The Cats are set to duel the Alabama Crimson Tide (14-7) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, this Saturday, Feb. 5.

UK’s weekend matchup against the Tide has the potential to be one of the toughest remaining games on the schedule for this Kentucky team with re-invigorated national championship hopes.

Despite the Tide being unranked in the most recent AP Poll, checking in at No. 26 with 97 votes, they have some of the most notable wins of the season on their résumé.

These include a 91-82 win over current No. 2 Gonzaga in Seattle, an 83-82 win over now No. 6 Houston at home, a 73-68 win over then No. 14 Tennessee at home, a 70-67 win over then No. 13 LSU and most recently, an 87-78 upset win over then No. 4 Baylor in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

 The total comes out to 5-1 against ranked opponents, with all five wins coming against top-15 or better teams.

While that résumé alone is enough to strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, the Tide have also picked up notable unranked wins such as an 80-71 win over Drake, a 96-64 win over Miami Florida and an 83-70 win over Florida in Gainesville.

While that is all impressive on its own, what makes Alabama a real wild card opponent is the teams they’ve lost to. 

The Tide lost their first game of the season in November, falling 72-68 to Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels. Since then, the team also dropped games to Memphis, Davidson, Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi State, and No. 1 Auburn.

Alabama’s season has been topsy-turvy to say the least. While Kentucky has a notably disappointing 66-62 loss at Notre Dame, the Cats have remained mostly consistent in beating the teams they’re favored against, losing only to ranked SEC opponents since. 

While they’ve struggled in several of their winning efforts, the Cats boast a 14-2 record in games in which freshman TyTy Washington Jr. and point guard Sahvir Wheeler both start and finish and a 17-4 record overall.

Kentucky’s biggest issue in the season thus far has been with injuries to key players, such as Washington and Wheeler. When the team is healthy, it has showcased its ability to perform to levels, such as what it demonstrated in its dismantling of the Jayhawks on Saturday.

Alabama’s issues this season are much more complicated than standard injury issues to key players.

The Tide’s offense is based on the 3-pointer. Alabama shoots close to 47% of its shots in any given game from beyond the arch, and while last season it was able to consistently score on a high percentage of those shots, the scoring production has taken a hit this year with the team scoring just around a 31% clip from deep.

The 31% statistic has Alabama all the way down at 285th in the country in 3-point percentage. 

Another factor to analyze about the Tide is the other half of their shots. The Tide shoot just over 57% from 2-point range, putting them sixth nationally, including going 22-28 from inside the arch in their win over Baylor.

Something working in Kentucky’s favor is that the Wildcats are better than Alabama in one of the Tide’s strongest statistics: offensive rebounding. Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe is the leading rebounder in the nation, averaging 15 rebounds per game and helping the team to average 41 rebounds per game.

Alabama also struggles in defensive efficiency, averaging around 75 points allowed per game, while averaging 81 on the offensive side. On the contrary, Kentucky averages just around 64 points allowed per game while averaging 82 points a night.

The Tide are no ordinary unranked team. The Wildcats will need to play to their potential if they hope to keep their spot in the top five.

Alabama basketball has seen its fair share of ups and downs this season, with high highs and low lows, and will certainly be on the hunt for another high against championship contender Kentucky.

Kentucky at Alabama is scheduled to tip-off at 8 p.m. E.S.T. on Saturday, Feb. 5.