Kentucky basketball: Jamal Murray leads Wildcats past Alabama

By Darrell Bird, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 23, 2016 at 10:38 PM
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Freshman guard Jamal Murray celebrated his 19th birthday by scoring 23 points to lead No. 16 Kentucky to a dominating 78-53 victory over Alabama on Tuesday before 24,262 at Rupp Arena.

"Kentucky was on top of their game," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "We've been playing with confidence, whether at home or on the road, and we just didn't have it tonight. But give them credit, they had that fire in their eyes. They were one step faster than us, they jumped about two steps higher than us, so give them credit."

The Wildcats (21-7, 11-4 SEC) remained in sole possession of first place in the conference while the Crimson Tide (16-11, 7-8) missed a huge opportunity to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.

Leading 17-15 with 9:17 left in the first half, Kentucky slowly pulled ahead. The Wildcats grabbed their first double-digit lead at 25-15 and held a 33-21 advantage at halftime.

Kentucky built the lead to 20 points 10 minutes into the second half at 55-35 as Murray scored 10 of the Wildcats' first 22 points after the break. Murray made two 3-pointers, making him the first player in school history to hit a 3 in his first 28 games.

"How much better is he? Oh my gosh, he's not even the same player," Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said of Murray. "His shot selection, he's not turning it over, he's defending better, he's getting by people, he's drawing fouls. He's a lead guard who scores it and is playing pretty well right now."

Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis added 19 points to go with 10 assists, five rebounds and one huge endorsement. Alabama coach Avery Johnson, who coached the likes of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Deron Williams, said there is no doubt Ulis a pro.

"He can play on the professional level. He's probably better than a lot of the guys who are there now," Johnson said. "He can do everything. Now when I was playing in the NBA, there were guys like Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues, but you know he is much better than those guys were offensively. And boy, he's a pure point guard who can hold his own. He's a coach's dream. He'll probably have a long, long career."

Senior forward Alex Poythress scored 14 points and freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe had 10 for the Wildcats. Junior forward Marcus Lee topped Kentucky with 12 rebounds.

The Wildcats shot 45.8 percent, won the rebounding battle 41-29 and committed only four turnovers.

"We had four turnovers. Think about that," Calipari said. "We're playing fast. We're being aggressive. We're moving the ball. And we had four turnovers."

Alabama's loss overshadowed the effort of senior guard Retin Obasohan, who scored 29 points. He made 9 of 13 field goals and 10 of 12 free throws.

The Crimson Tide made only 35.4 percent of their field goals and had 12 turnovers.

Kentucky got an early boost from Poythress, who had missed the five previous games with a right knee injury. Seeing his first action since Feb. 2, Poythress came off the bench to score six points to help the Wildcats to an 11-8 lead. Obasohan scored Alabama's first seven points and 11 of its first 12.

Kentucky pushed the lead to 22-15 at the 7:46 mark, but only two total points were scored over the next 4:20 as the Wildcats led 24-15 with 3:26 left in the first half.

Obasohan scored all but six of the Crimson Tide's first-half points while his teammates were 2 for 16 from the field.

NOTES: Murray has scored 20 or more points in seven consecutive games and in double figures in 26 straight. ... Though only 5 feet 9, Tyler Ulis leads the Wildcats with six double-doubles. Five have been points-assists, the other points-rebounds. ... Wildcats coach John Calipari has posted 20 or more wins in 22 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the nation. ... Alabama is 4-3 versus Top 25 teams, the most wins among SEC clubs.

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