TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a sloppy night for the University of Alabama's offense, but the Crimson Tide found a way to win a barn burner over Kentucky, 70-59, inside Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night.
The win marks Alabama's first regular-season sweep of the Wildcats in over 30 years, when it happened last during the 1988-1989 season. It is also the Crimson Tide's 10th straight victory overall and ninth in Southeastern Conference play.
The ninth straight win against league foes is the longest for the program since 1955 when the legendary "Rocket 8" Alabama team won 14 consecutively.
"First I would like to thank the crowd," Alabama coach Nate Oats said postgame. "The crowd really brought it for us and did a great job... Credit to Kentucky. They could've folded early when we jumped on them but they didn't... Gotta give them a lot of credit.
"Our guys are older and more veteran now, learning how to win and showing they know how to win tight games."
Over the final 20 minutes, the 9th-ranked Crimson Tide shot a dismal 27.8 percent, only making 5-of-18 from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range. It finished only converting 7-of-24 from three-point range, the second-lowest total of the season for Oats and company and just a week removed from a SEC-record 23 three-pointer outing against LSU.
"To go from making 23 threes a few games ago to only hitting six, this was a game we easily could have lost,” Oats said. “What I think it shows is this team’s capable of winning many different ways."
Instead, its offense was fueled by a performance at the charity stripe that saw Alabama make 22-of-26 in the second half and 24-of-28 for the game.
Alabama's defense was the real story of the evening, forcing 17 turnovers by Kentucky and holding the visitors to only 35 percent from the field.
Over the final 4:27 of action, trailing 54-52 at the final media timeout, the Crimson Tide went on an 18-5 run to close out the visitors from Lexington. During that stretch alone, Kentucky went 1-of-6 from the field and committed three turnovers.
The Wildcats (5-10, 4-4 SEC) either missed a shot or turned it over on seven of its last nine possessions.
"We just got in the huddle and told ourselves we know how to win," Alabama senior wing Herb Jones said. "We knew we had to rally and get some stops. "
Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford scored a team-high 21 points, 10 of which came from the charity stripe, and grabbed five rebounds. Jones, who fought through a hurt back and bloody nose, almost had a triple-double, netting 13 points, to go along with nine boards, eight assists, two blocks, and two steals.
Both combined to go 19-of-20 from the free-throw line.
"Even though our threes weren't falling, we knew had to drive and get fouled," Shackelford said. "We found a way to get the basket."
Kentucky guards Davion Mintz and Dontaie Allen, and forward Olivier Sarr tied for team-highs in points with 12. Guard Brandon Boston Jr. added eight points and six boards.
Alabama will take a break in SEC play over the weekend when it travels to Norman to face the 24th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Tip-off is scheduled for 11 a.m (CT) on Saturday and will be televised on ESPN2.
"I’m gonna do our clean-up from this game because it was disastrous on a lot of levels, especially offensively," Oats said. "But our assistants are all moving onto Oklahoma.
“We do have to get some guys rested. Herb’s really banged up, Reese is banged up. Petty, Shack, it’s just guys playing minutes. We’ve gotta get our guys’ legs back under them for the Oklahoma game. That’s a huge game. We’re winning games within the SEC. If we could get a non-conference win in late January, that would be huge for our resume come March. We’re putting ourselves in a situation where we could have a pretty high seed, and this game would go a long ways if we could go on the road and get one. They’re really good.”