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Big Blueprint: Cats miss out on opportunity for road win at Alabama

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Nerlens Noel had eight points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks in UK's 59-55 loss at Alabama on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Nerlens Noel had eight points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks in UK's 59-55 loss at Alabama on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Big Blueprint is back. A rapid recap of the game, the Big Blueprint looks at the nuts and bolts of the latest UK game when Cat Scratches is not in attendance. Tonight, we break down UK's 59-55 loss at Alabama.

The skinny: Following a solid first half that saw Kentucky build a 33-24 lead, the Wildcats went cold after halftime in a 59-55 road loss to Alabama. UK (12-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) was held without a field goal for almost eight minutes to begin the second half and didn't score another until the 8:18 mark as Alabama went on a 19-6 run. Even so, Julius Mays' 3-pointer - one of four he hit on the night en route to a 14-point performance - brought UK to within one point. The Cats would close to within one point three more times over the closing minutes, but couldn't get over the hump. When the referees said a Rodney Cooper missed free throw went out of bounds with 24 seconds left and the Crimson Tide up by four, the outcome was all but sealed and John Calipari fell to 71-2 when his UK teams have held opponents to 63 points or fewer.

The difference:
Half-court execution. Running the offense primarily through Kyle Wiltjer in the first half, UK looked on the way to a third straight win. In the second half, Alabama scrapped its full-court pressure and the Cats stagnated. UK shot just 8 of 27 (29.6 percent) from the field after halftime and didn't score a basket in the half-court until that aforementioned Mays 3 with a little more than eight minutes to play. In the closing minutes, John Calipari went back to Wiltjer - who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds - and he delivered a basket and set up another with a miss that Nerlens Noel dunked home.

Player of the game:
Nick Jacobs. After UK dominated the glass in the first half, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant used Jacobs much more frequently. He responded by scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, adjusting well to Noel's presence and even capitalizing on it. Jacobs had three offensive rebounds including a crucial put-back of an Andrew Steele miss off the backboard that Noel tried in vain to swat.

Turning point: Another poor second-half start will get headlines, but it was the way UK finished the first half that set the stage for it. UK extended its lead to 33-22 when Jarrod Polson hit Archie Goodwin for a layup with 3:34 to go before halftime, but missed on the chance to extend that lead with three empty possessions. The last one was particularly painful as Coach Cal called timeout with 43 seconds on the clock. Out of the break, Mays fired an ill-advised 3 with time to spare on the shot clock.

Key stat: Turnovers. In a relatively slow-paced game like this one, possessions are at a premium. UK gave away six of them against Alabama by committing 13 turnovers and forcing just seven. Many of the Cats' miscues were unforced, especially in the first half, as the Crimson Tide racked up 10 steals, most by any UK opponent this season.

Unsung hero:
Noel. It's basically become a nightly occurrence, the talented freshman flirting with a triple-double. Against Alabama, he shot just 4 of 9 from the field, but racked up 13 rebounds and career-high-tying seven blocks to go with his eight points. Over his last four games, he has 27 blocks. The most blocks Anthony Davis had over a four-game stretch during his record-setting 2011-12 season was 26.

He said what?:
"You've gotta give Alabama credit. They fought and had great confidence and they played to win. We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times." - Calipari

"Julius did what he could do, but our guard play was not near their guard play." - Calipari

"I came up off my feet. I wasn't disciplined. I should have stayed on my feet and stayed disciplined. I definitely owed that to my team." - Noel on leaving his feet early to contest shots in the closing minutes

"It's disappointing. We definitely were coming off of a good game so we wanted to keep making improvements and we let ourselves down. I guess we just gotta work that much harder, get back to Lexington and listen to Coach and keep trying to get better." - Wiltjer

"This is a team that's growing and getting better. We showed signs and now we took a step back. Hard place to play." - Calipari

What this one means:
UK's schedule isn't lacking for games against quality opponents, but the Cats' resume could certainly use a few wins over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams. Tuesday night was a missed opportunity on that front. The Crimson Tide were ranked in the top 60 of the latest RPI and the Cats would have gotten their first victory over such an opponent had they come away with the win. Instead, UK will have to regroup and look for a few of them in the final 13 games of conference play.

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