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Alabama men basketball opens SEC play with No. 13/14 Kentucky Saturday

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Alabama men’s basketball team will open SEC play on Saturday afternoon when it takes on No. 13/14 Kentucky inside Coleman Coliseum. Saturday’s game is scheduled for a noon tipoff and will be televised on ESPN.

Saturday’s contest, which will mark the only meeting between the two teams during the regular season, mars the first time Kentucky has played in Tuscaloosa since Feb. 11, 2016. In fact, it’s only the sixth time in the last 19 games played between the two teams that the Wildcats have invaded Coleman Coliseum.

The Crimson Tide is riding a four-game winning streak heading into SEC play, as it closed the month of December by winning each of its final four contests. The stretch began with a 76-73 win over Arizona on Dec. 9. That was followed by an 84-75 victory vs. Liberty, which was played in Huntsville, Ala., and a 73-64 triumph over Penn State on Dec. 21. Most recently, UA captured its first true road win by toppling Stephen F. Austin, 79-69, on Dec. 30.

THE BROADCAST

Saturday’s game will air on ESPN with Dan Shulman (play-by-play) and Jay Bilas (analyst) on the call.

The radio broadcast can be heard on the Crimson Tide Sports Network, Chris Stewart (play-by-play) and Bryan Passink (analyst) on the call. The pregame show will begin one hour prior to tipoff.

NOTES YOU NEED TO KNOW

Saturday’s game marks the 150th contest played between Alabama and Kentucky – the fifth-most games played against any one opponent in UA men’s basketball history. The Wildcats own a 112-37 edge in the all time series, including having won 10 straight games overall, 12 of the last 13 and 17 of the last 19 contests between the two teams.

With one more block, senior Donta Hall will become just the seventh player in program history to record 200 blocks for his career. He enters the UK game with 199 career swats, which is the most of any player currently playing in the SEC.

The Tide has won the rebounding battle in 11 of its 12 games to begin the season. For the year, Alabama ranks fifth in the SEC and 38th nationally in rebounding margin (+6.7), outrebounding the opposition by an average of 39.0-32.3. Furthermore, UA is fourth in the conference and 62nd nationally in offensive rebounds per game, averaging 12.2 heading into the game against Kentucky. As a result of its work on the offensive glass, the Tide is outscoring opponents by an average of +2.7 points per game (12.3-9.6) in second chance points.

With the SEC-Big 12 challenge still looming, Alabama’s non-conference strength of schedule ranked No. 40 in the nation, according to CBSSports.com. The Tide’s non-league slate included four teams that were picked to win their conference: Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Northeastern (Colonial Athletic Association) and UCF (American Athletic Conference). Alabama also faced off with Murray State (Nov. 26), who was picked to finish second by a narrow margin to Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Alabama enters its contest against Kentucky ranked 21st in the nation in blocked shots per game at 5.2 swats per contest. Leading the way is senior Donta Hall, who is currently 29th nationally and fifth in the SEC with 2.3 blocks a game. He currently has 199 career swats which ranks seventh in program history. With one more block, Hall will become just the seventh player in program history to record 200 swats in his career.

Alabama boasts a balanced offensive attack that averages 76.5 points per game and is outscoring the opposition by 5.2 points per contest (76.5-71.3). The Crimson Tide boasts three players who average double figures through 12 games (Kira Lewis Jr. - 15.0 ppg, John Petty Jr. - 11.1 ppg and Donta Hall - 11.1 ppg), while five others are averaging between 8.9 ppg and 6.5 ppg. Additionally, 10 UA players average double-digit minutes per game.

Alabama will play its first SEC road contest when it travels to Baton Rouge, La., to take on the LSU Tigers on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The contest will tip off at 8 p.m. CT and will be televised on SEC Network.

ABOUT ALABAMA

Alabama improved to 9-3 on the year by picking up its fourth consecutive victory – and first true road win – with a 79-69 win at Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 30. The streak began with a 76-73 home win over Arizona on Dec. 9 followed by an 84-75 triumph over Liberty on Dec. 18 in the Rocket City Classic in Huntsville, Ala. and a 73-64 victory over Penn State on Dec. 21.

Freshman guard Kira Lewis Jr. leads a balanced scoring attack that features eight Alabama players averaging 6.5 points per game or more. Three UA players average in double digits as Lewis’ 15.0 points per game tops the Tide and ranks 10th in the SEC. Sophomore John Petty Jr. and senior Donta Hall are tied for second on the team at 11.1 points per game.

Petty leads UA in minutes (31.8 mpg) and threes made (22) and attempted (66), while also ranking second in rebounds (5.2 rpg) and third in assists (1.8 apg). Meanwhile, Lewis is the team leader in assists (3.1 apg), three-point field goal percentage (40.4 percent) and free throw shooting (37-of-45, .822). Hall tops UA in total dunks (21), rebounds (8.2 rpg), blocks (2.3 bpg), double-figure contests (9) and double-doubles (5). He currently ranks among the league leaders in both rebounding (6th) and blocked shots (5th).

Junior Tevin Mack is averaging 8.9 ppg, while junior Dazon Ingram (8.2 ppg) and sophomores Alex Reese (7.3 ppg) and Herbert Jones (7.3 ppg) are both averaging over seven points per contest. Ingram is second in the team with 2.5 assists per game, while Jones, who is considered one of the top defenders in the Southeastern Conference, tops UA with 14 charges taken and 14 steals.

As a team, Alabama enters its league opener as one of the top rebounding teams in the SEC. The Tide has outrebounded 11 of its 12 opponents on the year and ranks fourth in the SEC with a +6.7 advantage on the glass (39.0-32.3). UA is shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 34.0 percent from beyond the arc on the year, while outscoring the competition by 5.2 points per game (76.5-71.3).

Alabama welcomed back three of its top four and nine of the top 11 scorers from last season’s squad. Leading the list of returnees is Hall, who paced all returning players in scoring (10.6 ppg), rebounding (6.6 rpg), blocks (2.0 bpg), dunks (75) and field goal percentage (.726).

ABOUT KENTUCKY

Kentucky, the preseason pick to win the Southeastern Conference, comes into its league opener with a record of 10-2 on the season. Most recently, the Wildcats captured their third consecutive victory with a 71-58 win at Louisville on Dec. 29. Freshman guard Tyler Herro finished with a game-high 24 points to lead UK, ending the night 10-of-13 from the field and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Freshman guard Keldon Johnson leads four players who average in double digits with 16.4 ppg, while also topping the team in three-point shooting (43.2 percent on 19-of-44 shots from beyond the arc) and minutes per game (31.4). Graduate senior Reid Travis (14.6 ppg), Herro (13.3 ppg) and sophomore PJ Washington (12.6 ppg) all average in double figures. Washington also leads UK in rebounding (8.4 rpg) and blocks (16).

As a team, UK is shooting 49.3 percent from the field, 36.0 percent from beyond the arc and 74.4 percent from the charity stripe, all while outscoring teams by an average of 13.7 points per contest (83.1-69.4). The Wildcats enter the game at Alabama as one of the top rebounding teams in the nation and leads the SEC in both rebounding defense (27.6) and rebound margin (+11.7, 39.3-27.6).

Kentucky head coach John Calipari comes into Saturday’s game with an all-time record of 730-206 (.780) in his 27th season at the helm of the men’s basketball program. Now in his 10th season at UK, Calipari owns a record of 285-66 (.812). Calipari has led his teams to great success, having secured 25 consecutive 20-win seasons coming into the 2018-19 campaign.

TOPPLING THE TOP 25

Saturday’s game vs. No. 13/14 Kentucky will be the first time that Alabama has played an opponent this season that is ranked among the top 25 in the nation.

Head coach Avery Johnson has led his teams to success when playing against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 during his time at the Capstone.

In 21 total games played against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (including NCAA Tournament contests), Johnson has led the Tide to a record of 11-10. That’s a huge improvement, especially considering prior his arrival, Alabama had lost 21 consecutive games to nationally-ranked opponents.

Last season, Alabama finished with six wins over ranked opponents, It was the most victories over top-25 teams in a single season in program history, topping the four victories over ranked foes which was set in four different seasons (1981-82, 1986-87, 2001-02 and in coach Johnson’s first season in 2015-16).

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