LEXINGTON, Ky. – Trevor Releford slashed between three Kentucky defenders, hit a floater and slid into the front row. No matter how hard the Alabama guard tried, the Wildcats always had an answer for him and the rest of the Crimson Tide.
Releford scored all 17 of his points in the second half, but No. 2 Kentucky hit its final eight free throws in the closing minute in the Wildcats' 77-71 victory over Alabama on Saturday.
"Trevor took what the defense gave him in the second half," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. "He was able to create some opportunities off the dribble when we had late clock or broken floor situations."
Kentucky (19-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) led the entire second half for its 47th straight home win, but Releford kept the Crimson Tide (13-6, 2-3) close until the end. His team may have also provided a blueprint of how to hang with the Wildcats by being physical with freshman Anthony Davis, who still had a big game.
"We tried to neutralize some of the things that allow him to have the success that he has. He had 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks," Grant said. "I think a lot of coaches in this league would take that."
Terrence Jones, who finished with 15 points, made Kentucky's final field goal with 6:57 left, but the Wildcats hit 23 of 29 second-half free throw attempts — scoring their final 15 points from the line — in a game that featured 45 fouls.
"Coming into the game, we knew we had to be physical. We played physical," said JaMychal Green, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. "They just got to the free-throw line more than we did and that probably won the game for them."
Trevor Lacey scored 10 points for Alabama, which lost its third in a row.
"I know a lot is being made about people trying to physical, but we just played the way we played," Grant said. "I don't think we intentionally went out there and said we were going to do this. Kentucky's a very good team. They are obviously a physical team in their own right. We thought we had to do our best to take away some of the strengths of their team."
With 1:06 left, Kidd-Gilchrist fouled out trying to stop Andrew Steele, who hit two free throws that cut Kentucky's lead to 69-67.
The teams traded free throws with Miller making two foul shots and Green added two more with 37 seconds to play. Teague hit his two and Steele answered with two more when Lamb fouled Steele on the inbounds pass with 24 seconds to go that cut it to 73-71.
But Miller hit two more free throws with 14 seconds to play and Davis blocked his fourth shot of the game and grabbed the rebound when Charles Hankerson drove into the lane.
Davis was fouled with 4.5 seconds left and hit both his free throws for the final margin. He went 2 of 10 from the field and 7 of 9 from the free-throw line.
"Somebody's hip was on him 24-7 until the game ended," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "As a matter of fact, they put a hip on him in the postgame handshake, too."
Releford rallied the Crimson Tide and Alabama trailed 49-48 with 12:37 left, but never took the lead despite Releford's scooping layup just beyond Davis' attempted block off the glass and then his floater that rattled around the rim and fell that cut Kentucky's lead to 55-52.
"When they started doubling up inside offensively on JaMychal, that left me open," Releford said.
Jones' jumper made it 62-57 with 6:57 left, but Kentucky wouldn't score again from the field. The Wildcats fouled out Alabama's leading scorer and rebounder Tony Mitchell with 5:32 left.
Mitchell scored six points on 2-of-9 shooting for his second straight subpar performance after failing to score in 31 minutes in a loss to Vanderbilt, but Alabama hung around thanks to its aggressive play.
"We were trying to defend and not foul. In the second, we had no choice but to foul," Green said. "It's always frustrating to lose. We just have to pick ourselves up and be ready the next game."