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Rewind: Tuscaloosa Tumble

Jan. 22, 2013
Coleman Coliseum; Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Archie Goodwin scored just six points on 2-of-12 shooting in Kentucky's loss (file photo)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - So much for turning the corner.

Kentucky went more than 11 minutes spanning the first and second halves without a field goal, losing a nine-point halftime lead on the way to what could be a devastating 59-55 defeat to Alabama at Coleman Coliseum.

The Crimson Tide physically manhandled the young Cats for most of the night and dominated a second half that saw Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow miss a sea of out of control drives to the basket. Through all that, UK had a chance to take the lead but Kyle Wiltjer missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free throw line with 1:20 remaining, and the Cats twice failed to box out Alabama's Nick Jacobs on offensive putbacks in the closing minutes.

The Cats took a 33-24 lead at the half but managed just two field goals over the first 15 minutes of the second half as Alabama – who struggled offensively as well – methodically closed the gap and took control of the game.

“This is a young team and I'm trying to be patient and I am. At some point you're going to buy in and at some point you're going to understand you're not very good the way you're playing. You'll want to change and when you change you'll be fine.”

“It kills any time you lose, so, yeah, it definitely hurt. Especially because we knew we could have won the game. We didn't execute down the stretch, and so it definitely hurt a lot. – Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer

A game like this doesn't leave much in the way of taking the positive out of a negative, but the combination of Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer once again played well despite being the Cats' only two consistent frontcourt players. Noel finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks, while Wiltjer scored a team-high 14 points and added seven rebounds. Still, each had their own issues too. Noel didn't get to the free throw line at all and was enticed into leaving his feet trying to block several shots down the stretch and Wiltjer – an 82 percent free throw shooter – missed the front end of a critical one-and-one with a chance to give UK the lead with 1:20 remaining.

Kentucky's offensive struggles began late in the first half but it was a stretch of 6:31 to begin the second half that allowed Alabama to gain confidence and creep back into a game that UK coach John Calipari said afterward should have been a 15-point halftime lead for the Cats. UK managed just a single free throw over that time, missing all eight of its field goal attempts and turning the basketball over three times as the Crimson Tide outscored the Cats 11-1 to take a 35-34 lead. The Cats rebounded with a short run but ultimately ended up trailing the final 9:42 of the contest.

John Calipari's teams have always been defined by their guard play but he's finding life much more difficult and frustrating this season with the continued inconsistency of Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow. The two guards combined to score 13 points on 5-of-24 shooting, continually driving into a thicket of Alabama defenders before flinging the ball in the general direction of the basket while trying to draw a foul. Correct calls or not, the officiating crew allowed an abundance of contact all night and were mostly consistent in that approach, which UK coach John Calipari said he told his two young guards over and over again as he implored them to shoot runners and pull-up jumpers. Goodwin and Harrow never adjusted.

2 – The Kentucky offense was brutal over the final 33 minutes of the game, showing once again just how limited this team can be on offense when the game becomes a possession-by-possession affair. The Cats managed just two field goals in first 15 minutes of second half and did not make one at all until Ryan Harrow's drive in transition at the 12:04 mark of the second half. UK ended up shooting 29.6 percent (8-of-27) in the second half, but two of those baskets game in the final 8.8 seconds of the game.

John Calipari continues to act as if everyone is going to wake up one day and forget the Cats' struggles ever happened but it's becoming increasingly clear they very well may have to win the SEC Tournament to avoid going from national champions to an NIT team. Frankly, there is still very little evidence to suggest this a team capable of having some basketball epiphany that alters the course of its season. Could it happen? Sure, because the Cats are still very gifted, but that would be more of wishful thinking than anything tangible they've shown through 18 games.

Kentucky (12-6, 3-2) hosts its lone home game during a five-game stretch when LSU comes to Rupp Arena for a 4 p.m. tip on Saturday, Jan. 26.

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