TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — No. 1 Kentucky earned a break with another Southeastern Conference blowout marked by relentless defense, rebounding and a couple of sharp-shooting freshmen.
The reward: A day off from coach John Calipari.
Freshman Devin Booker scored 13 points and remained solid from the perimeter and the Wildcats coasted to their second straight lopsided SEC win with a 70-48 victory over Alabama on Saturday.
As a result, Calipari gets to watch son Brad play for a Massachusetts prep school and the players can relax on Sunday. The Wildcats did it with a mix of inside-outside scoring.
“I told guys if you don’t throw it to the post, you’re coming out,” Calipari said. “It’s pretty simple. Everybody said, ‘Boy, they had great energy today.’ Because they had a choice. There’s one of two things happening: You’re going to play and defend like you’re crazy. You’re going to go do your thing and get a day off (Sunday). Or we’re practicing.”
The Wildcats (17-0, 4-0) withstood an early second-half rally by the Crimson Tide (12-5, 2-2) before brushing off the potential challenge. The win gives Kentucky the program’s third-best start.
It wasn’t a laugher like Tuesday night’s 86-37 win over Missouri, but the bigger, deeper Wildcats easily overwhelmed an Alabama team that had won six of its last seven games.
Kentucky made 8 of 17 3-pointers, including three apiece by freshmen Tyler Ulis and Booker, who had 10 second-half points. Ulis and Dakari Johnson scored 11 points for Kentucky, while Willie Cauley-Stein had nine.
Booker has now made 20 of 28 3-pointers over the last seven games. It’s not the first such hot streak he’s had, but he’s enjoying it while it lasts.
“It’s like I’m shooting into the ocean now,” said Booker, who made 3 of 6 from long range. “It’s really coming easy for me.
“At the beginning of the year, I started out in slumps and I kept telling everybody, ‘Shooters keep shooting.’ That’s what I did, and now it’s falling.”
Levi Randolph led Alabama with 13 points and Rodney Cooper added 10.
Kentucky hit 50 percent of its shots (23 of 46) and missed only two of 18 free-throw attempts.
Kentucky continued the week’s romp through the SEC and used two big runs to take a 35-17 lead by halftime, easily the Tide’s lowest first-half total.
“They’re obviously the No. 1 team in the country for a reason,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “You look at the size, the length, their ability to defend. It was difficult to find quality shots against them.”
Alabama trimmed the lead in half with a 13-4 run coming out of the locker room, when the Wildcats missed their first five shots.
The rally was short-lived, and then it got worse for the Tide. Big men Jimmie Taylor and Michael Kessens each picked up their fourth foul by the 11:30 mark of the second half, creating an even bigger mismatch around the basket.
“They started going inside and kind of got the momentum back,” Randolph said.
The Wildcats reclaimed control with 10 straight points en route to a 16-2 run that featured two 3-pointers by Ulis, one by Booker and a powerful dunk by Cauley-Stein.
The lead eventually ballooned to 28 points, but the comfortable margin was set up with two stretches in the first half.
The Wildcats made four 3-pointers during a 19-5 spurt. Then they fashioned a 12-1 spurt on strong inside play and free throws.
The Tide made only one field goal over the last 9:30, while Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns went to work for Kentucky.
Kentucky: Outrebounded Alabama 30-21 and forced 15 turnovers. No player attempted more than seven shots, with Johnson and Booker both making 4 of 7.
Alabama: Now 2-2 at home against top-ranked teams. A No. 1 team hadn’t visited Coleman Coliseum since 1994, when Alabama beat Arkansas. It was the Tide’s first sellout since hosting Kentucky in January 2013.
The Tide’s previous first-half low was 25 points in a couple of games, but it’s the 13th time a Kentucky opponent has failed to reach 20 in a half. The deep Wildcats had nine players score in the opening half, while ‘Bama’s roster combined to make seven shots.
Calipari replaced four of his players after calling a timeout two minutes into the second half, sending in the second “platoon.”
Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt Tuesday night.
Alabama visits No. 19 Arkansas Thursday night.
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