- Friday, March 12 2010 -
SEC Tournament (at Nashville, TN)
Kentucky - 73 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 2nd by AP and 2nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Alabama - 67 (Head Coach: Anthony Grant) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Alabama 35, Kentucky 30
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 74 - 66|||||Tennessee 74 - 45|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats survive Bama in SEC opener
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The old college basketball postseason mantra has always been survive and advance, do what you have to do by any means necessary to live for another day. Kentucky's precocious young freshmen did exactly that in their first ever tournament game, learning along the way nothing comes easy in March.
The Cats pulled it together just in time to avert a spirited upset bid, pushing past Alabama for a 73-67 victory in front of a predominantly blue Bridgestone Arena crowd and advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals. For UK, it was another voyage into uncharted waters for a squad terribly short on experience.
"I'm trying to convince this young team of 19-year-olds that either you want it more than (your opponent) or they want it more than you," UK coach John Calipari said. "Whoever is in that mode in this tournament, or the next one, is going to win."
For the better part of the afternoon Alabama was clearly the team more eager to keep their postseason train rolling. The Crimson Tide built on the momentum gained from erasing an 18-point second half deficit 24 hours before against South Carolina and took the fight right at the Cats on its way to an 11-point advantage. With UK struggling to make shots or keep Alabama off the glass it looked like the Cats' performance in Music City may be a short one.
"This was the first time they were in that situation where if you lose you go home," UK forward Ramon Harris said of UK's youngsters. "They were the aggressive team in the beginning and the postseason is all about who is willing to do anything not to go home. We came out a little flat and they came out ready. You can tell (the freshmen) all day but sometimes you have to go through it. It caught us off guard a little bit."
Like the Cats have done so many times this year, they found their footing and began to assert themselves early in the second half. After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, UK was down 40-34 with 16:48 remaining when guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe took over. With either Wall or Bledsoe driving to the basket, UK ripped off a 21-5 run to grab the lead for good, although the Crimson Tide made the Cats work for it until the final buzzer.
"We understand it's win or go home," UK forward Patrick Patterson said. "We understand we have to bring it every night. We have to up our level our play, be the more aggressive team and we weren't. They had more effort than we did but down the stretch we were able to make plays."
"They came out with higher energy and it showed," UK forward DeMarcus Cousins added. "(The veterans) told us but you don't know until you actually play in it. The intensity was hot from the beginning. I guess it took a half for us to get used to it."
Given UK's success in the regular season it can be easy to forget just how new all of this is to the Cats' phenomenal freshmen, a point Calipari attempted to drive home after the game.
"It's just hard," Calipari said. "I mean, you think you've cracked it and they've understood and then they come out the next game and you know, well, he pushed me. I tried. Well, he tried harder so you've got to try harder. All of those kinds of things are what we're dealing with right now.
"You've got to grow up and you've got to get more mature. The leadership of this team has got to grab a couple of guys and get them to do the right things."
If that doesn't happen the Cats will fail to meet that old postseason axiom.
DeMarcus Cousins and Darius Miller fight with Alabama's Justin Knox (#40) and Chris Hines for the ball
John Wall ties up Alabama's Senario Hillman (#21)
Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe (#24) drives