Kentucky, which has fallen from preseason top five to an NCAA Tournament bubble team, secured what many believed to be a must win Saturday with an 81-71 victory over Alabama.
Kentucky improved to 18-9 overall, 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama fell to 17-10, 8-6 and had its two-game win streak ended.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak that had sent UK spiraling into a tie for eighth place in the SEC. It was the only time in coach John Calipari’s nine seasons in Lexington that UK had lost four in a row. The previous worst streak was two in a row.
Kentucky avoided what would have been the first five-game losing streak since Rick Pitino’s first season, a 14-14 campaign in 1989-90.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sparked the win, despite scoring just six points. He had three key steals in the closing minutes to stymie any Alabama bid for victory.
Freshman forward PJ Washington topped UK with 16 points. Fellow freshmen Kevin Knox and Quade Green added 13 and 12, respectively, and classmate Jarred Vanderbilt had 11, including UK’s last three field goals.
UK shot 43.8 percent from the field.
Alabama got 16 points from junior forward Donta Hall. Freshman guard John Petty added 13, and freshman guard Collin Sexton scored 12. The Tide shot 47.3 percent but was out rebounded 44-27.
Kentucky built a 39-34 halftime lead on the strength of nine points from Green, who did not start. Nick Richards added eight of his 10 for the game and Washington had six. The 39 points were the most in a first half for UK since the Louisville game on Dec. 29.
As a team, Kentucky shot 45.2 percent, including 40 percent from 3-point range. The Wildcats had 22 rebounds, five assists and seven turnovers in the half.
Alabama got 10 points from Alex Reese, who also did not start the game. Sexton added six.
The Tide shot 42.9 percent, but only 26.7 from 3. Alabama had 14 rebounds, five assists and six turnovers.
There were 11 lead changes in the first half.
Both teams are back in action Tuesday. Kentucky travels to Arkansas for the only meeting between the two teams this season. Alabama visits No. 10 Auburn in a rivalry rematch. On Jan. 17 in Tuscaloosa, the Tide gave Auburn one its three losses with a 76-71 win.
— Field Level Media