Alabama and Kentucky fans engage in a dance-off
No. 25 Kentucky survives Alabama 55-48
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Julius Randle had 12 points and 11 rebounds and No. 25 Kentucky rallied past Alabama 55-48 on Tuesday night to end a two-game losing streak.
Needing a bounce after Saturday's loss at South Carolina with a huge hurdle looming this weekend at No. 1 Florida, the Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 Southeastern Conference) used a 15-2 second-half run to build a 43-34 lead. They added several smaller runs to hold off the stubborn Crimson Tide (12-18, 6-11) in their regular season home finale.
Kentucky avoided its first three-game losing streak under coach John Calipari and clinched second place in the conference.
It wasn't easy or pretty for the Wildcats, whose 33 percent shooting reflected their generally tentative play. But a couple of timely dunks by Dakari Johnson and 3-pointers by Aaron and Andrew Harrison keyed the run that helped put away Alabama.
Trevor Releford had 13 points for Alabama.
Johnson and James Young had nine points for Kentucky.
Kentucky also outrebounded Alabama 41-27 and made 18 of 24 free throws in the home finale for seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood, members of the Wildcats' 2012 NCAA championship team.
Alabama shot just 33 percent in the second half and 38 percent overall.
Though rough at times, Kentucky's win temporarily quelled anxiety among its fervent fan base over the late swoon. Certainly, there was cause for concern following Saturday's loss in which the Wildcats had to rally from a 16-point second-half deficit with Calipari in the locker room after being ejected.
And though Kentucky faced an Alabama squad that had won just three of its last 10 coming in, the Crimson Tide's 73-57 win over rival Auburn on Saturday symbolized what can happen when everything is working. Levi Randolph's 24 points led the way and the junior guard had scored 70 points in his last three games.
However, SEC player of the year Releford provided the Crimson Tide's spark in a low-scoring first half by recording nine of their first 13 points to quiet cheers for fan favorites Hood and Polson after the reserves each hit 3-pointers to open Kentucky's scoring.
The Wildcats regrouped to take a 21-20 lead on a Willie Cauley-Stein free throw, an aspect that helped them trail just 28-25 at halftime despite 6-of-25 shooting. Kentucky took 15 shots from the line, three times more than Alabama, making 11.
Alabama shot 42 percent in the first 20 minutes but was beaten 7-1 on offensive rebounds, allowing Kentucky to edge the Tide 7-3 in second-chance points.
Then came the energy and ball movement Calipari had waited for all night from his players, just as they seemed resigned to just stay close. Trailing 32-28, Randle made consecutive baskets, the Harrisons added back-to-back 3-pointers and Johnson sandwiched dunks around a James Young free throw.
The big run over 4:57 provided Kentucky's biggest lead at 43-34. Alabama got within 48-47 on Randolph's jumper with 5:11 left but only added a Releford free throw after that.