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January 22, 2013

Alabama beats Kentucky with Coleman magic

TUSCALOOSA | There weren't many statistical categories in which Alabama surpassed Kentucky on Tuesday night.

But there is no line on the statistics sheet that measures intestinal fortitude.

Alabama overcame an 11-point first-half deficit by making the game a battle of wills and gradually overcame visiting Kentucky 59-55, giving the Crimson Tide its fourth straight win in Southeastern Conference play.

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Alabama opened the second half on an 11-1 run to take the lead, went ahead for good on Andrew Steele's 3-point play with 9:42 to go, withstanding challenge after challenge from UK (12-6, 3-2).

The Wildcats' best chance to regain the lead came with 1:20 remaining. Kyle Wiltjer, who led UK with 14 points, was fouled and went to the line with the 'Cats trailing 51-50. But he missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Nick Jacobs, Alabama's second-half hero, responded with a crucial tip-in basket at the other end, putting UA up 53-50 with 50 seconds to go. After a Wildcat miss, Alabama then made four of six free throws to seal the victory.

"I love that kind of game," UK coach John Calipari said. "It was a gut game. Alabama just gutted it out."

"I thought in the first half, the emotion got to us," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "In the second half, we defended much better."

Jacobs led Alabama with 14 points, including 10 in the second half. Defensively, Moussa Gueye had a career-high five blocked shots.

"Both Moussa and Nick were huge," Grant said. You look at the numbers and they are good, but the awareness they had, the things that don't show up in the stats were really big for us."

"We just didn't close out," Wiltjer said. "They made their run and we didn't make stops, didn't make shots."

Kentucky played well in the first half, including a 15-6 run late in the half to take a 31-20 lead. But Alabama increased its defensive intensity with 3:20 left in the half to shut UK down and keep the game from getting out of hand, then took the fight to UK in the second half.

"They just were aggressive and we were tentative," Calipari said. "The thing that killed us was three offensive rebounds late in the game. Our guards felt like it wasn't their job to go get it and it got rough in there.

"We had our chances. You have got to give Alabama credit. They played with confidence. They played to win and we played not to lose, which young players will do on the road."

Alabama will be back in SEC action on Saturday, playing at Tennessee.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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