Alabama Basketball: Crimson Tide Wins a “Gut Game” against Kentucky


Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide pulled off a stunning 59-55 victory against the Kentucky Wildcats Tuesday night in front of a packed house at Coleman Coliseum. The win extends the Tide’s record to 12-1, and 4-1 in conference play.

John Calipari, Kentucky’s head basketball coach, commented after the game on Alabama’s performance:

“(Alabama) shot 36 percent, 15 percent from the three, got outrebounded by 12 rebounds, listen folks, and won,” Calipari said afterward. “I love that kind of game. It’s a gut game.”

It is true: Alabama shot poorly in the game, especially in the first half. Credit Kentucky’s sinewy big man Nerlans Noel for that: He had 7 blocks in the game and successfully affected as many, if not more, of Alabama’s shot attempts.

And it’s true: Alabama also had an abysmal night from the three point line: the Tide went 2-13 (15.4 percent), while Kentucky was efficient, making 5-9 (55.6 percent). And, Kentucky did out-rebound the Tide, but only by 9 (40 to 31).

Basketball is about maximizing the amount of possessions your team has, and maximizing the efficiency of those possessions. Field goal percentage is important, as are other statistics like assists and steals. But there are three statistics that have a direct effect on maximizing possessions and scoring efficiency: rebounds, turnovers, and free throw efficiency.

The Tide was able to win two out of those three categories on Tuesday night. Alabama still struggles as a team in the rebounding category, as they average only 32.4 rebounds per game, which ranks 275th nationally. Much of this has to do with overall size and length.

But the Tide also averages 12.6 turnovers a game, 89th overall in the country, which is certainly decent, but the goal is to average under ten per game. This is a crucial statistic: good teams simply do not turn the ball over. Alabama only turned the ball only six times on Tuesday night, while Kentucky had 13 turnovers in the game. The Tide’s effort was far removed from the slopfest that was the Texas A&M game, where ‘Bama turned the ball over 15 times — most of them being unforced turnovers.

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from the game last night: Alabama shot 15-21 at the foul line (71.4 percent), while Kentucky only shot 6-11 (54.5 percent).  As a general rule, if a team is making more free throws than their opponent is attempting, they are in very good shape. ‘Bama has shot a respectable 70.7 percent from the free throw line this year.

This was the product of being aggressive offensively, and constantly attacking the basket; a difficult task against the lengthy forward Noel. For any team that struggles to score, much like Alabama does (64.2 ppg., which ranks 228th nationally), the goal is to get to the free throw line as many times as you can.

Coach Cal said it best: it was a “gut game.” Alabama is showing it has grit and has the ability to perform under pressure and finish games. If Alabama can continue to limit turnovers and shoot efficiently from the foul line, and improve their rebounding margin, they may be able to make a nice run in the SEC this year, and put themselves in a position to be successful in the SEC tournament in March.

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