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Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' NCAA Tournament Hopes Crushed in Loss at Alabama

Jan. 22, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Rodney Cooper (21) defends Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the second half at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama won 59-55. Mandatory Credit: Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Matt OveringContributor IIIJanuary 22, 2013

The Kentucky Wildcats will have an uphill climb to make the NCAA tournament. A 59-55 road loss to Alabama (12-6) reminded us all that Kentucky is firmly on the bubble this year.

John Calipari has a young team. Regardless of talent, the Wildcats struggle to stay consistent. Their loss to Alabama epitomized this notion.

In the first half, Kentucky looked solid. Turnovers were prevalent, but Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays shot well. Kentucky played strong defense. At halftime, the Wildcats were up 33-24.

Evident in the final score, the second half was disastrous. Everything that Kentucky had built in the first half crumbled. 

Guards struggled to get the ball inside. Wiltjer was (finally) the man that needed the ball on offense, but guards Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow were determined to put up contested shots.

Wiltjer finished with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Goodwin and Harrow combined for 13 points on 5-of-24 shooting.

The blame should be placed across the board for the Wildcats. Goodwin and Harrow couldn't shoot. Alex Poythress was invisible (15 minutes, five fouls).

Calipari called for his guards to take control. In hindsight, that wasn't the smartest coaching decision. It was Wiltjer, Nerlens Noel and Julius Mays who kept the Wildcats afloat in the second half.

Noel was a behemoth defensively, grabbing 13 rebounds to go with seven blocks. He added eight points in 39 minutes of play.

Mays shot the ball well, going 4-for-5 from three-point range. 

Three commendable stat lines were not enough to top the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, and an NCAA tournament bid seems like a long shot now for the 12-6 Wildcats.

Oscar Combs knows his Wildcats have work to do.

Bad, bad loss in Tuscaloosa tonight for Cats at hands of Bama. Barring a split with Fla & wins over Ole Miss or Mizzou, UK headed to NIT.

— Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) January 23, 2013

After a gritty road win at Auburn on Jan. 19, Kentucky had the look of a team that had turned the proverbial corner. The Wildcats dominated the second half against Auburn, scoring 45 points en route to a 75-53 victory.

The same team came to play in the first half against Alabama. First-half jitters led to turnovers, but Kentucky appeared to be in control.

But a 22-point second-half performance doomed the Wildcats. Kentucky has no killer instinct (we've talked about this topic before), no go-to scorer and no leadership.

Noel has led on defense. Harrow has stepped up, and it appears Wiltjer is comfortable coming off the bench. Willie Cauley-Stein should be back soon.

But Goodwin and Poythress have regressed. Neither have "bought in." Both have shown flashes of excellence this year, but those days seem to be as distant as the 2012 NCAA national championship.

Kentucky has a chance to regain its composure on Jan. 26 against LSU before two more road games at Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

All statistics via ESPN.com

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