Tide believes if it can make free throws, it can beat Kentucky

Derek Willis (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

NASHVILLE — Isaiah Briscoe scored seven straight points in the final five minutes after Alabama had wiped out most of Kentucky’s 18-point lead to help the Cats win 67-58 at Alabama earlier this season.

Today Briscoe and the Cats will face Alabama again. This time it is in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.

Briscoe had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the game but Alabama remembers another stat — the Tide missed 17 of 26 free throws.

“Kentucky, what can you say?” said Alabama’s Riley Norris, who scored 12 points in Friday’s win over South Carolina. “Really well-coached, got a lot of young talent, really skilled. Going to be a tough competition. But I think you got to be focused, learn from this game and move on and turn our focus towards Kentucky and go out and play hard tomorrow.”

Alabama teammate Braxton Key says Alabama has to play better to beat UK and keep itself in contention for a NCAA tourney bid.

“You play harder and better, rebound better. So we’ve got to do a lot of things better. We had a great performance tonight. We have to carry it over to tomorrow,” Key said. “We were a few missed free throws away from beating them before. We know we can play with them.

Alabama coach Avery Johnson, who beat Calipari for recruit John Petty this year, remembers his team being lethargic to open the game against Kentucky when it scored only 20 points in the first half.

“When you’re 9-26 from the free throw line, that doesn’t bode well for you. We just have to do a better job of starting off the game better. We didn’t start off this game great, but we got it going eventually. But we got to play more of a 40-minute game against them and not, you know, 18, zero minutes, because they’re too good,” Johnson said.

“But, you know, hopefully we’re a team that’s trying to put something together during this time of the year. It’s not really about what happened during the season. This is just a moment in time where you know if we continue to get better independent of the team that we’re going to play, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”

Alabama made 15 of 21 free throws to beat South Carolina. But Johnson doesn’t anticipate making any big game plan changes.

I don’t think we have to be under so much stress where we have to be perfect, because that adds too much tension. I don’t see a tense team in our locker room. We play well on the road. This has been road games for us. So, you know, 5-4 on the road and we had two other games that were very winnable games,” Johnson said.

“I just think for us we just have to take care of whatever we can take care of. I just don’t really know — we weren’t Alabama in the first half of the Kentucky game. Little bit more in the second half, but we were playing catch up too much. They’re a talented team. We respect them, but we got to be ready to continue to do what we’ve been doing, which I think is playing balanced basketball.”

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