TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Anthony Grant kept his halftime message simple. Settle down offensively, step it up defensively.
The Crimson Tide heeded his advice right out of the locker room. Nick Jacobs scored 14 points and hit his final six shots and streaking Alabama beat Kentucky 59-55 on Tuesday night for its fifth win in six games.
“The thing we talked about (at halftime) is just to try to settle in and understand what we needed to take away and make them work for every basket that they were going to get,” Grant said. “Unfortunately, in the first half it kind of got away from us.”
With that second-half effort, the Tide (12-6, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) held Kentucky (12-6, 3-2) to a season-low scoring total, 22 points below its average.
Levi Randolph and Trevor Releford each hit two free throws in the final 13 seconds to secure the win for Alabama, which had lost seven of the last eight meetings.
“They were aggressive We were tentative,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Three offensive rebounds killed us late. It got rough in there and we didn’t mix it up.”
Releford had 13 points and Randolph added 11 for the Tide. Jacobs more than doubled his season average of 5.8 points a game.
Kyle Wiltjer led Kentucky — which had won four of five games — with 14 points and seven rebounds. Nerlens Noel had eight points, 13 rebounds and for the second straight game blocked seven shots.
The Wildcats shot 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) in the second half, managing just 22 points.
“We just came out of halftime too flat,” Noel said. “We weren’t being aggressive. That affected us. That really put us down.”
Alabama and Kentucky traded timeouts after Wiltjer missed a potential tying free throw with 1:20 left and the Tide leading 51-50.
Jacobs, who came off the bench, scored on a putback with 51 seconds left for a 53-50 lead and then Julian Mays and Archie Goodwin missed shots on the other end. Releford dished to a driving Rodney Cooper, who was fouled and made one of two free throws with 28 seconds to play.
The ball went out of bounds off Kentucky after the miss. The foul shots made Noel’s game-ending dunk meaningless.
“They fought and had great confidence and they played to win,” Calipari said. “We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times.”
Alabama’s Trevor Lacey turned in a key play for a 48-44 lead with 4:26 left. Alex Poythress fouled out with six points, seven below his average, trying to stop his drive to the basket, but Lacey lay on his back for a couple of minutes while trainers attended to what Grant said were cramps in both calves.
Moussa Gueye gave Alabama a shot-blocking presence that nearly matched Noel. He swatted five away in 18 minutes, including one on Goodwin’s drive with 15 seconds left that allowed the Tide to put it away at the line.
That block drew a high-five from Grant.
“That was potentially the game-winning block right there,” the coach said. “I just wanted to acknowledge to him that was huge right there.”
Kentucky’s previous season low in points was 60 at Vanderbilt in a win on Jan. 10. A drought after halftime helped ensure the Wildcats fell short of that.
Alabama opened the second half on an 11-1 run to turn a nine-point deficit into a 35-34 lead on Lacey’s two free throws with13:29 left. The Wildcats missed their first eight shots and final three before halftime.
Alabama pulled back on its full-court defense in the second half after the Wildcats hit 14 of 29 shots (48.3 percent).
“They just said, ‘Don’t even press. We’re just going to lock them in on the half-court and be physical,’” Calipari said. “They ran and got good shots and got second shots and we didn’t.”
The Tide won despite getting outrebounded 44-32, shooting 36.8 percent (21 of 57) and making only two 3-pointers.