By LARRY VAUGHT
This was a game Kentucky needed to win for more than just positioning in the Southeastern Conference race.
Saturday’s game at Alabama was a chance for UK to snap out of its recent funk and prove it could still be a national championship contender.
The Cats did that — and more — by beating Alabama 67-58. It wasn’t just the win, but the way UK won over a team that was coming off a four-overtime win at South Carolina.
Kentucky had four fouls in three minutes. It had three players with two fouls midway of the first half and five players with two fouls at halftime.
After taking a 20-11 lead, Kentucky missed six of its next seven shots in the first half. But the Cats got a needed spark from reserve Dominique Hawkins — he hit a baseline shot, made a free throw, and then forced a steal and made the layup — to push the lead to 27-19.
UK led 29-20 at halftime and the Cats — a team not known for defense — held Alabama to 32 percent overall shooting in the first half and gave up the fewest first-half points they have all year.
Not bad for a team that got woke up at 3 a.m. at its team hotel Saturday by a fire alarm and had to evacuate and then had another false fire alarm at 5 a.m.
After Malik Monk pulled up and hit a 15-footer after an Alabama turnover early in the second half to give UK a 39-24 lead, former UK All-American Rex Champion — who is now part of the UK Radio Network — tweeted this: “(Monk) has made progress. From the get-go he was more active defensively … and more willing offensively to accept the physicality.”
Monk got his first rebound in three games — 88 minutes of play — in the second half and also passed up a shot on the fast break to set Mychal Mulder up for a dunk with a perfect lob pass.
But just when it looked like a romp, Kentucky quit making shots and Alabama started hitting. An 16-piont lead got whittled down to 55-49 with just under three minutes to go after Bam Adebayo fouled out.
But Isaiah Briscoe got three straight baskets for Kentucky and then when UK needed him most, Derek Willis buried a 3-pointer out of a Calipari timeout for a 60-51 lead with 1:18 left. Kentucky was 0-for-6 on 3-point shots before Willis hit his shot.
Monk had 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting. Adebayo had 14 points and seven rebounds. He was 5-for-9 from the field. Briscoe had 11 points (despite missing six of seven free throws), 11 rebounds and four assists. He also had four turnovers.
Kentucky was just 3-for-15 from 3-point range and shot just 43.5 overall. At the foul line UK was just 10 of 18. Of course, Alabama was only 9-for-26 at the foul line and 3-for-14 from 3-point range.