January 30, 2015

Although Kentucky is finally at full strength and looking to build on its SEC regular-season title, John Calipari can't help but feel a little uneasy heading into the conference tournament.

The veteran coach has warned the second-seeded Wildcats of the dangers that await them against an Alabama team that has already experienced a much-needed win in Nashville.

As it tries to take a first step toward its second back-to-back tourney titles under Calipari, No. 16 Kentucky chases its sixth straight victory over the Crimson Tide in Friday night's quarterfinals.

After scoring 72.3 per game on 45.8 percent shooting while dropping two of three in late February, the Wildcats (23-8) averaged 91 while shooting 52.8 percent in back-to-back March victories that gave them a share of their second straight regular-season crown.

Derek Willis, averaging 7.8 points, scored six in 14 minutes of Saturday's 94-77 home win over LSU following a three-game absence due to a sprained ankle. Alex Poythress had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in his fourth game back after missing five because of a right knee injury.

Now Kentucky hopes to benefit from having a full roster for only the third time since Feb. 2 as it looks to begin a run to its fourth SEC tournament title since Calipari arrived in 2009-10.

Calipari, however, believes his team could be most vulnerable in the first game.

"The hard thing becomes that they've played and they've got momentum and you're walking in not knowing, and you had to lay around all day," he told the school's official website. "After that you can still lose but the hardest game is playing that first one when they have already played."

Tenth-seeded Alabama, desperate to make a deep run to improve its NCAA Tournament chances, should feel pretty comfortable at Bridgestone Arena after shooting 52.8 percent and making 12 of 24 from 3-point range in Thursday's 81-73 victory over No. 7 Mississippi.

Retin Obasohan scored all 17 of his points in the second half while Riley Norris added 16 and 11 rebounds as the Tide overcame a 13-for-28 performance from the free-throw line.

Alabama (18-13) had averaged 60.6 points on 40.1 percent shooting while dropping four of the last five games of the regular season. It scored just 57 per game, shot 35 percent and was outrebounded 84-54 in a pair of losses to Kentucky by a combined 41 points.

The Wildcats will have to watch Obasohan as they go after their 13th win in the last 15 meetings. He's averaged 23.7 points in his last seven games and totaled 50 in this season's series.

Alabama has its own concerns defensively after Mississippi's Stefan Moody finished in a tie for the second-highest single game total in SEC tournament history with 39 points on Thursday.

The Tide will try to do better against Jamal Murray, who has averaged 25.9 points while hitting 41 of 76 (53.9 percent) from 3-point range in his last nine games. The SEC freshman of the year totaled 44 points and sank 13 of 14 from the free-throw line in the two against Alabama.

Tyler Ulis, second on the team with 16.6 points per game, scored 19 with 10 assists and five rebounds in a 78-53 home win Feb. 23 in the most recent meeting.

"We can't afford for him to have a double-double," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "We have to try to take something away, which is easier said than done."

The Tide seek their third consecutive victory over a ranked opponent on a neutral court.

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