Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Continuing their attempt at a perfect season, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Rupp Arena on Saturday, when they play host to the Alabama Crimson Tide in an SEC showdown.
John Calipari's Wildcats are one of just two unbeatens left in the country along with No. 2 Virginia. Kentucky is off to its third-best start in school history at 20-0, which marks the best start since the 1965-66 campaign (23-0). The team returns home after a pair of road tilts at South Carolina and Missouri, both resulting in double-digit victories. With a 69-53 win over the Tigers on Thursday, Kentucky is now 7-0 in conference play.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide had plenty of success in their non-conference schedule at 10-3, but the league slate has been an entirely different animal, as Alabama has limped to a 3-4 league ledger thus far. The team has dropped four of its last five games and enters here off a disappointing 52-50 setback at home to Florida on Tuesday.
This marks the 142nd meeting in this long-standing rivalry. Kentucky holds a sizable 104-37 lead in the all-time series and has won nine of the last 11 meetings. The Wildcats are seeking a regular-season sweep after posting a rather easy 70-48 romp in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 17.
The Crimson Tide went into halftime down by 13 points to the Gators last time out, and despite outscoring Florida 28-17 in the second half, Alabama came up just short in the end. Rodney Cooper led the way in defeat with 14 points. Ricky Tarrant finished with 13 points and Levi Randolph added nine for Alabama, which struggled offensively, shooting just .391 from the floor in the loss.
Putting up gaudy offensive numbers is not Alabama's strength this season. The Tide are averaging a decent 68.5 ppg on .448 shooting, but it has been strong defensive play that has kept them in most games. Foes are averaging just 63.2 ppg and being held to a lowly .412 shooting overall. Randolph leads a trio of double-digit scoring threats on the roster, as he nets 14.7 ppg on a cool .500 shooting. Tarrant is next in line at 13.1 ppg and is followed by Cooper and his 10.9 ppg.
Defense is the name of the game for Kentucky as well, but the Wildcats take it to a whole other level. Not many teams can match Kentucky's defensive tenacity, as the team ranks second in scoring defense (50.5 ppg) and first in both field-goal percentage defense (.321) and blocked shots (156). The offensive numbers aren't overwhelming, but they don't have to be considering the team leads the nation with a +23.8 scoring margin. Aaron Harrison leads the way with his 11.6 ppg. Devin Booker is a close second at 10.7 ppg. Willie Cauley-Stein (8.7 ppg, 35 blocks) and Karl-Anthony Towns (8.0 ppg, 49 blocks) are a tough one-two punch in the paint.
It wasn't quite the blowout that the first meeting was, but Kentucky still took care of its business against Missouri this week. The Wildcats held the Tigers to just .419 shooting efficiency, while owning a 34-26 advantage in rebounding. The biggest difference though came at the free-throw line, where Kentucky outscored Missouri, 27-13. The Harrison brothers led the way at the offensive end for Kentucky, as Andrew and Aaron posted 15 and 11 points, respectively.