TUSCALOOSA ?? The University of Alabama basketball team continues its week on the road in the Southeastern Conference Saturday when the Crimson Tide, 13-10 overall and 2-6 in the SEC, travels to Lexington, Ky., to play the University of Wildcats, 11-9, 5-2. Tip-off in Rupp Arena is at noon CT. The game is being televised on the Raycom Sports Network.
It’s the second of two road games Alabama plays this week as the Tide was at Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
“I think they are playing very well. They’ve won four in a row. I think they’ve overcome a lot of difficult situations with injuries. They’re playing extremely well with a lot of confidence,” said Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried whose Tide team won on his last trip to Rupp Arena in 2006. “I think they (Kentucky) have done a good job of staying together. They had a tough start. (Patrick) Patterson is emerging as a real force. You watch him on the tapes. He’s a young player and you look at his numbers and he’s very, very impressive number wise. (Joe) Crawford has really stepped up. (Ramel) Bradley didn’t play (Wednesday) night (injured) but he has been sensational for them. They’re a team that’s playing a lot better right now. They’ve won four in a row.”
Three of Alabama’s probable starters Saturday against the Wildcats were freshmen the last time Alabama, a member of the SEC’s Western Division, played at Rupp Arena, legendary home to the SEC’s Eastern Division Wildcats. Point guard Brandon Hollinger started in that game and scored 10 points in the 68-64 Alabama win. Richard Hendrix started in that game and scored seven points and Alonzo Gee, now a Tide starter, came off the bench and played 18 minutes, scoring two points in that game that was part of a nightmare travel odyssey for the Tide. The plane leaving Tuscaloosa was late arriving to pick up the team because of weather. When it did arrive, the steps the Tuscaloosa airport had were too high for the plane and the travel party had to literally jump down three feet to board the charter jet. When the plane finally neared the Lexington airport, there was an issue with the runway lights and the flight was diverted to land in Louisville, about an hour’s drive. The team bus, however, was at the Lexington airport so the players and staff had to camp in the Louisville airport for over an hour while the bus came to get them then made the drive to Lexington. Instead of arriving in Lexington around 7 o’clock and going directly to shoot at Rupp, the team arrived at nearly midnight and went straight to bed.
This trip the Tide is hoping the only travel issues will happen when Kentucky is holding the ball.
“Kentucky is a powerful team,” said Hollinger who scored 10 points at Mississippi State Wednesday in Alabama’s 73-66 road loss. “They’ve got Patrick Patterson down in the post. They’ve got Jodie Meeks who is a sophomore. They have Ramel Bradley as a point guard. He’s probably had several straight 20-point games or close to it. They have different personnel with Joe Crawford. He’s an experienced player who’s been there for four years. Those guys, they just come out and play hard every night. Plus they are playing at home, and Rupp Arena is always going to be hard to go there and play no matter who they are playing against. They didn’t start off their season as well as I’m sure they wanted but they are finishing it up pretty well.”
Last year Alabama and Kentucky played one another twice, splitting the results. Alabama won 72-61 in Tuscaloosa but lost 79-67 to the Wildcats in the first round of the SEC tournament in Atlanta.
“Last year when we played them, they had Randolph Morris, so it’s basically the same because Patterson has stepped in and filled that role. But the difference I think between their team last year and this year’s team is they play four guards. Last year they didn’t really do that too much. This year when they sub a guy out, they bring in (Derrick) Jasper and they have four guards out on the court. A lot of teams are doing that this year. That’s the typical thing for college basketball now. That’s what those guys do. They have a pretty good lineup when they have their four guards out there, so that’s the difference I’m seeing in Kentucky’s team this year from last year’s team.”
Kentucky has used a variety of lineups this season. The Wildcats are led by freshman Patrick Patterson who averages 17.2 points and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds. He’s one of four Wildcats averaging in double digits in scoring as Joe Crawford averages 16.7, Ramel Bradley 15.8 and Jodie Meeks 10.1 points. Kentucky has won its last four games against Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Auburn as well as a league-opening win against Vanderbilt. Its SEC losses are to Mississippi State and Florida.
“I think they (Kentucky) have done a good job of staying together,” said Gottfried of the Wildcats who went through a four-game losing stretch in December and were 6-7 going into league play. “They had a tough start. (Patrick) Patterson is emerging as a real force. You watch him on the tapes. He’s a young player and you look at his numbers and he’s very, very impressive number wise. (Joe) Crawford has really stepped up. (Ramel) Bradley didn’t play (Wednesday) night (injured) but he has been sensational for them. They’re a team that’s playing a lot better right now. They’ve won four in a row.”
Alabama is led in scoring and rebounding by Richard Hendrix who averages 19.0 points and 10.3 rebounds. Gee is averaging 16.3 points and7.4 rebounds. Mykal Riley averages 13.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. Hollinger is averaging 7.0 points and 3.4 assists and, rounding out the probable starting lineup for the Tide, Demetrius Jemison averages 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Following Saturday’s game, Alabama returns home to host Ole Miss on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT. It’s one of the final three home games for the Tide. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased through Alabama’s website, www.rolltide.com, by phone by calling 1-877-TIDETIX or at the Athletic Ticket Box Office in Coleman Coliseum.