LEXINGTON — The Alabama Crimson Tide needed a terrible game by Kentucky to have a shot to upset the ninth-ranked Wildcats Thursday night, and they got it, escaping Memorial Coliseum with a 57-55 shocker over the lethargic home team.
The difference was a wide-open baseline jumper by Daisha Simmons with 2.3 seconds to go.
Kentucky dropped to 15-4 overall and 3-3 in the Southeastern Conference, while Alabama improved to 9-10 overall and 2-4 in the SEC in coach Kristy Curry’s first year at the Crimson Tide helm.
Curry’s team out-hustled the Wildcats most of the way. The only exception was a stretch of some 45 seconds in the closing minute when Kentucky utilized a trapping defense to force two quick Alabama turnovers and got four free throws by junior guard Jennifer O’Neill, tying the score at 55-55 with 14 seconds to go.
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell did not use a trap defense on Alabama’s winning possession, leading to a full-court run by the Tide that led to the pass to Simmons on the baseline.
Simmons led Alabama with 21 points.
“It was a bad decision on my part, just plain and simple,” Mitchell said when asked why he took off the trapping defense on that last Crimson Tide possession. “It was just so dumb to do something like that when you have clearly been successful, and they have not handled it well. I really went against my gut there, and that was a huge mistake.”
But, this game never should have come down to that.
The Wildcats played like a team that was not mentally there on either end of the court. Kentucky shot just 22 of 58 from the field, with at least a dozen misses coming from point-blank range.
And defensively, Kentucky all but fell apart after taking a 39-31 lead with 14:33 to go.
The Crimson Tide went on a 16-2 run to rattle the Wildcats and seize control.
“We let a six-point (Alabama) lead feel like 60,” Mitchell said.
How bad was this loss?
This is the same Alabama team that lost to Kentucky, 85-63, Jan. 2 in Tuscaloosa. It’s the same Alabama team that was coming off a 77-51 loss at No. 8 South Carolina, and had earlier lost 79-59 to Princeton, 75-57 to UT-Martin, 86-76 to Saint Mary’s and 82-70 to UT-Chattanooga.
When asked the difference between Thursday’s debacle and Kentucky’s earlier win in Tuscaloosa, Mitchell said: “I thought in Tuscaloosa we really hustled hard, and we were able to score 82 points and able to put some pressure on them and get some separation. We just couldn’t do that tonight.”
“Alabama came out and wanted it a lot more,” said UK senior forward Samarie Walker, who led the Wildcats with 18 points and seven rebounds but fouled out with 1:46 left. “That showed more so down the stretch when we needed to get buckets and we needed to get stops.”
“Clearly we are struggling right now,” said Mitchell, whose team hosts Arkansas Sunday at 1 at the Coliseum. “We need to find some way to right the ship and get headed back in the right direction. We need to get that way fast.
“I just think the team has such great expectations on it, and they are just not handling it really well right now,” Mitchell added. “I am not doing a good job helping them handle it.”
Asked where the Wildcats go from here, sophomore guard Janee Thompson said, “Practice. Try to come together and figure it out in practice.”
Junior forward Bria Goss added 14 points and six rebounds for UK in Thursday’s loss.