TUSCALOOSA — College football season is finished, and with the Alabama fan base maybe ready for a little basketball, the hoops team has a chance for a real showcase tonight.
The Crimson Tide will face defending national champion Kentucky at home at 8, with an ESPN audience joining what's expected to be a sellout crowd gathered at Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama (11-6, 3-1 SEC) has won three straight and is coming off its best-attended home game of the year. The school listed an attendance of 13,741 for Saturday's 50-49 win over Texas A&M. That's about 1,300 short of a sellout.
Kentucky isn't ranked, but the Wildcats still are 12-5, including 3-1 in the league.
"It should be a great atmosphere," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said.
"It should be a great contest."
Like almost everyone else, the Crimson Tide has struggled against Kentucky recently, having lost seven of its past eight against the Wildcats. However, Alabama has won two of its past three against Kentucky when playing at Coleman Coliseum, including a 68-66 victory two years ago.
Kentucky enters with a new starting lineup from a year ago. Forward Nerlens Noel, guard Archie Goodwin and forward Alex Poythress are freshmen. Sophomore guard Ryan Harrow spent his freshman season at North Carolina State before transferring and sitting out last year. Senior guard Julius Mays spent two years at N.C. State, two years at Wright State and has joined the Wildcats this season as a graduate student.
Reserve Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward, gives Kentucky one of its most experienced players. He has scored 17 points off the bench in each of the past two games.
For Alabama, five players are back who played extensively in a 77-71 loss at Kentucky last year — forward Nick Jacobs and guards Levi Randolph, Trevor Lacey, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele.
"We look at every game as a different situation," Steele said.
"We try not to base anything from the past. We only worry about what we can control going forward. Our coaches do a good job on their scouting report and are very detailed with their tendencies. We go into every game extremely prepared."
Added Grant: "The preparation isn't really different. We are 17 games into the season, so you look at film of the games they have played this year."
Noel, a 6-10 freshman, is the closest the Wildcats have to replacing Anthony Davis, who won both the Naismith Award and Wooden Award last year as the nation's best player. Now with the New Orleans Hornets, Davis averaged an NCAA-leading 4.7 blocks a year last season as a freshman.
Noel averages 10.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocks a game, and Grant said he is similar to Davis.
"What's really impressive is his steals — he is averaging almost three steals per game on the season," Grant said. "He has great length, great hands and very good quickness for a guy his size."
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he is impressed with Alabama's guards, especially the two leading scorers, Releford (16.2 points) and Lacey (12.5).
"Their guard play is why they're 3-1 in our league," Calipari said.
Contact Mark Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-340-2461.