LEXINGTON, Ky. — Four straight losses were enough for Kentucky.
PJ Washington scored 16 points, Kevin Knox added 13, and Kentucky beat Alabama 81-71 on Saturday to end a four-game slide.
“They played desperately,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We gave away some games this year and we have to start taking games away from people, which means desperation.”
The Wildcats (18-9, 7-7 Southeastern Conference) displayed a sense of urgency against the Crimson Tide, especially in the rebounding department. The Wildcats held a commanding 44-27 edge on the glass and grabbed 20 offensive boards, resulting in 20 second-chance points for the hosts.
“They were desperate and they had a lot of energy,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
Quade Green scored 12 points, Jarred Vanderbilt scored a career-high 11 off the bench with nine rebounds, and Nick Richards added 10 points for the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt played a key role down the stretch for the Wildcats and finished with nine rebounds.
“We came together the last five minutes,” Vanderbilt said. “We made some key plays down the stretch, took care of the ball and we just executed.”
For Kentucky, which hadn’t won since an 83-81 overtime win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 30, fending off the Crimson Tide (17-10, 8-6) wasn’t an easy task. The Wildcats have won six straight over Alabama, including 11 of the past 12 games.
“It felt like we were back to normal and back to where we needed to be,” Washington said. “We just need to keep building from here.”
Alabama, the top defensive team in the conference, forced eight ties and 15 lead changes until the Wildcats gained control midway through the second half to avoid a fifth straight loss. Kentucky led for the final eight minutes.
Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer, sat out 14 minutes of the first half because of foul trouble, but picked up the scoring load with all of his 13 points in the second half. Knox connected on first field-goal 7/8- a 3-pointer with 13:22 remaining — to ignite the Wildcats’ stagnant offense and spark the team’s impressive finish.
Kentucky led 39-34 at the break amid four ties and 11 lead changes. The Wildcats got most of their scoring off the bench in the opening half with Green and Washington combining for 15 points. Green paved the way with nine and made four of five field goals.
“They just outworked us,” Alabama forward Donata Hall said. “They were a hungry team.”
Hall led Alabama with 16 points, John Petty had 13, Colin Sexton 12 and Alex Reese 10.
Kentucky: The Wildcats, who have lost three straight road games (Missouri, Texas A&M and Auburn), will attempt to end the slide Tuesday at Arkansas, which lost just one of its first 14 games at home this season. Kentucky, five games behind conference leader Auburn, is out of contention for a fourth consecutive regular-season title, although a top-four finish isn’t out of question.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide, 5-1 against ranked teams this season, including a 76-71 win over No. 10 Auburn on Jan. 17 in Tuscaloosa, will attempt a sweep of the Tigers Wednesday. Alabama will attempt to lock up one of four top spots and a bye during the final two weeks of the regular season. Alabama coach Avery Johnson fell to 0-6 in games against Kentucky.
Former Kentucky forward John Pelphrey, an assistant coach at Alabama, made his return to Rupp Arena. Pelphrey, a former Mr. Basketball at Paintsville High School in 1987, played for the Wildcats from 1988-92 and was a member of the “Unforgettables” squad that lost to Duke in the 1992 East Region finals.
Kentucky is at Arkansas Tuesday.
Alabama visits No. 10 Auburn Wednesday.