<
>
Insider

Three keys: Alabama at No. 2 Kentucky

1/20/2012

Things don't get any easier for the Crimson Tide as it travels to Lexington, Ky., today to take on the second-ranked Wildcats. Alabama dropped back-to-back games for only the second time all season Thursday after losing to Vanderbilt by double digits at home.

Kentucky hasn't lost at home this season but the potential for an upset is still there. If Alabama has any hope of pulling out of its recent slide, a few things will have to go its way.

1. Find an identity on offense. It all starts with the play of point guard Trevor Releford. When he's pushing the ball in transition, things seem to fall into place for the Tide. When he's careless with the ball and firing up misguided jump shots, the team becomes stagnant.

The halfcourt offense is missing an inside presence and the Tide don't shoot well enough to make up for it. has shown glimpses of power down in the block but hasn't regained his pre-injury form. The return of Moussa Gueye will help, but assistance needs to come from the entire lineup. The loss of to an injury against Vanderbilt only hurts that cause.

The key is consistency. When Alabama gets out of its comfort zone, it shows.

2. Win the free throw battle. Simply put, Alabama is not attacking the basket on offense and, thusly, not getting to the foul line (See Vanderbilt +11 in free throw attempts). The Tide's wing players are settling for too many jumpers and when you're shooting just 46 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three, that's not enough. Trevor Lacey and Tony Mitchell must force the issue in transition and get Kentucky into foul trouble, negating the talent of the Wildcats' starting five.

Alabama needs to play smart on defense as well. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State exploited the Tide at the charity stripe and those two teams are not the caliber of Kentucky. The Wildcats lead the league in free throw attempts and free throw percentage. If Alabama can't keep the Wildcats off the line, it will be a long afternoon at Rupp Arena.

3. Keep composure. Against Vanderbilt, Alabama did something under coach Anthony Grant that fans haven't become accustomed to seeing -- it lost composure. Yes, the officiating of that game was questionable, but with that said, expect worse on the road at Kentucky. It's going to be a hostile, raucous environment that the Tide will have to fight to overcome. Leadership, in that setting, will be paramount.

"They have a great fan base there and they’re always there for their team home or away," Green, Alabama's lone senior, said of playing at Kentucky. "It’s going to be tough and something the freshmen haven’t seen this year. We just have to go into it like every other game and just play hard.”

If Alabama can keep it together, this could prove to be a major turning point in the season.