Tuscaloosa, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats put their flawless record in harm's way as they take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in an SEC showdown at the Coleman Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
After edging out both Ole Miss and Texas A&M in overtime thrillers the last two times out, John Calipari's Wildcats got back to their dominant selves, blowing out Missouri on Tuesday, 86-37. The lopsided win was the 16th straight to open the season, tying the 1933-34 team for the fourth-best start in school history.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide will present quite the challenge for Kentucky. Alabama comes into this contest at a respectable 12-4 overall, including a 2-1 mark in SEC play. However, the Tide are coming off a 68-66 loss at South Carolina, which halted a six-game win streak. The last time Alabama played host to a top-ranked team was in 1994, a 66-64 victory over then No. 1 Arkansas.
This marks the 114th all-time meeting between these two teams. Kentucky holds a sizeable 103-37 advantage, including wins in eight of the last 10 meetings. However, Alabama has won the last two matchups at Coleman Coliseum.
Kentucky completely annihilated Missouri last time out, as the Wildcats took a 44-18 lead into halftime and then rolled up another 42 points in the second half, en route to the 49-point rout. In all, UK shot a solid .482 from the floor, while forcing Missouri into a dreadful .271 shooting effort. The Wildcats also abused the Tigers on the glass, outrebounding them 46-27. Aaron Harrison led the way offensively with 16 points. Willie Cauley-Stein added 13 points, while Karl-Athony Towns posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats have had some close calls of late, but for the most part the team has excelled at both ends of the floor, as evidenced by the nation's best scoring margin (+25.9). Offensively, the team is averaging 76.5 ppg, while ranking second nationally in scoring defense (50.6 ppg) and first in blocked shots (132). Kentucky also lives comfortably in terms of rebounding (+9.8) and turnover (+4.4) margins. Aaron Harrison leads the way in scoring with 11.8 ppg. Devin Booker is the only other Wildcat currently in double digits at 10.5 ppg, although Cauley-Stein (9.7 ppg), Towns (8.7 ppg) and Dakari Johnson (8.3 ppg) aren't far off the mark.
The Crimson Tide also pride themselves on solid defense, although the numbers aren't as eye-popping as Kentucky's. Alabama is holding foes to just 62.1 ppg this year, on just over 40 percent shooting (.407). The team also forces an impressive 14.5 turnovers per game. Levi Randolph is the straw that stirs the drink in Tuscaloosa this year. He is tops on the team in scoring (15.1 ppg), assists (2.9 apg) and steals (1.6 spg), while finding time to pull down 4.8 rpg. Ricky Tarrant and Rodney Cooper provide scoring depth with 13.3 and 10.7 ppg, respectively.
In the narrow loss at South Carolina, Alabama trailed by five points at the break, but shot 54.5 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes to stay right with the Gamecocks, before dropping a two-point decision. Tarrant led the way in defeat with 15 points. Randolph added 14 points, while Michael Kessens chipped in with nine.