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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2007
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Alabama’s Richard Hendrix, a graduate of Athens High, scores two of his 16 points over Kentucky’s Lukasz Obrzut during the first half of the Tide’s 72-61 victory in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
AP photo by Dan Lopez
Alabama’s Richard Hendrix, a graduate of Athens High, scores two of his 16 points over Kentucky’s Lukasz Obrzut during the first half of the Tide’s 72-61 victory in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

Tide builds big lead for big win
No. 25 Alabama dumps No. 20 Kentucky in packed Coleman

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama faced a sense of urgency Saturday in Coleman Coliseum. So much that Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried broke out his bellman-like red blazer.

Call it luck, call it hard play, call it whatever you want, but it worked in No. 25-ranked Alabama’s 72-61 win against No. 20 Kentucky.

When asked about his outfit, Gottfried said, “I’m trying everything I can. I need a little help here and there. I have a rabbit’s foot in my pocket and all kinds of lucky charms.”

In the past two games, Alabama (19-7, 6-6 SEC) took control early only to lose it late. Against Ole Miss, Alabama lost a seven-point second-half lead, and at Florida it lost an 11-point halftime lead.

But down the stretch against the Wildcats (18-8, 7-5), Alabama aced the test in almost all aspects of the game in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,316.

The Crimson Tide used the inside-outside game that it had missed much of the year. Ronald Steele, Mykal Riley and Justin Tubbs provided offense from the perimeter with 15, 12 and nine points, respectively.

And when Alabama needed low-post scoring, Athens High graduate Richard Hendrix was there for Alabama by collecting 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

Maybe most importantly was Steele’s play. The oft-injured point guard had suffered through knee and ankle problems, but he had seven assists and two turnovers to go along with his points. Only once this season has he had more assists and only three times has he had more points.

“I think in early January, we weren’t very good,” Gottfried said. “It wasn’t one thing — it was a lot of things. We’re just getting better. Our team is a little more confident now. Hopefully, we can continue that.”

When the Wildcats came clawing back after the Tide had built leads of 14 points in the first half and 13 in the second, the Tide found the answers it had been missing in its previous two games.

In between the 11:07 and 8:09 mark of the second half, Kentucky went on a 10-2 run to close the gap to 45-43.

On Alabama’s next possession, Steele launched a 3-point basket off a pass from Hendrix to give the Tide some breathing room.

After Kentucky brought the Alabama lead down to two points on its next two possessions, the Tide struck back quickly after two free throws by Demetrius Jemison and a 3-point shot by Tubbs.

This sent the Tide on a 10-1 run that the Wildcats couldn’t answer.

“We always get up big and allowed them to come back and we did tonight, but we finished better in the end,” Steele said.

“We lost two games we thought we should have won. Our emphasis in practice was on finishing games.”

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