By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Alabama overcame a 38-24 halftime deficit to know Mississippi out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday night with a 62-57 victory that earns the Crimson Tide a match with Kentucky in the tourney quarterfinals Friday night.
Alabama outrebounded Ole Miss 50-30 after coach Avery Johnson went to a bigger lineup and outscored the Rebels 36-20 in the paint.
Kentucky lost at Alabama to open SEC play and now has a chance to avenge that defeat that UK freshman guard Ashton Hagans said Tuesday the Cats all wanted.
“We’ve had some tough matchups against Kentucky. Coming into the season, one of the things we talked about was we never had success against them in my four years here. That was a highly contested game (in regular season play),” Johnson said.
“Now we’ll have another opportunity to see if we can play a hard-nosed, tough game, with a lot of discipline. Hopefully our guys continue to pay attention to all the minor details. It’s just amazing how alert they’ve been in practice and even this morning in shootaround.
“I think we’ll be ready to go. We know we’re playing against an awfully tough opponent.”
Alabama got 21 points — including four 3-pointers — and six rebounds from Tevin Mack along with 15 rebounds and seven points from Donta Hall. Johnson played Galin Smith 29 minutes to keep a bigger lineup on the court and he had 11 points and seven rebounds. Point guard Kira Lewis had 13 points, four steals and three assists while Riley Norris had just two points but added nine rebounds, five assists and one steal.
Alabama likely needs at least one more win to get into the NCAA Tournament. Alabama is now 18-14 after going 8-10 in SEC play.
Johnson says his team has “no choice” but to be in desperation mode against UK.
“We have a really good résumé. I know the negative folks, they love, love, love, like the five percent or 10 percent, they like to focus on your ‘bad losses.’ We also have some outstanding wins,” Johnson said.
“Hopefully the outstanding wins trump any of our bad losses. We play in a tough conference. Maybe four years ago when I first arrived in the SEC, there’s no way in the world a team could go 8-10, make it to the tournament. Now it’s a different SEC. That’s why I think an eight or nine team also make it to the tournament. Hopefully we’ll get our names called.
“In the meantime we’re going to focus on how to play another outstanding basketball game tomorrow with hopefully a little less turnovers, better execution in both the first and second half.”