Freshman Justin Edwards scores 28, leading No. 17 Kentucky past No. 13 Alabama 117-95

LEXINGTON, Ky (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari kept telling Justin Edwards he believed in him, even as the freshman struggled through an inconsistent season.

That belief paid off Saturday as Edwards scored a season-high 28 points, leading No. 17 Kentucky to a 117-95 win over No. 13 Alabama.

Edwards scored his previous high against Vanderbilt on Feb. 6, when he finished with 17 points.

“I kept saying you’re going to break through. I believe in you,” Calipari said. “He said ‘Coach, I believe in you.’ And I said, you just got to stay the course.”

Against Alabama, Edwards was 10 for 10 from the field and 4 for 4 from 3-point distance. His only miss came at the free throw line, where he finished 4 for 5.

“It felt good to go out and show I can play like I did,” Edwards said. “It means a lot because (my teammates) believe in me. I knew I hadn’t missed (a shot), but I knocked on wood.”

Antonio Reeves scored 24 points, and Zvonimir Ivisic came off the bench to score 18 points for the Wildcats (19-8, 9-5 SEC). Kentucky shot 63% from the field, 54% from 3-point distance and finished a point short of its highest scoring game of the season, a 118-82 win over Marshall on Nov. 25. It was the second-most points Kentucky has scored in an SEC game in Rupp Arena since posting 127 against LSU in 1995.

Rylan Griffen scored 21 points and Mark Sears added 20 for Alabama (19-8, 11-3), which shot 56% from the field and turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 29 points by Kentucky.

“Kentucky was ready to play tonight and we weren’t. They were great and we looked awful,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “I told our guys we have had question marks about our defense all year.”

The conference showdown between the pair of highly ranked teams and the two top scoring offenses in the nation got off to a quick start. Alabama held a 29-28 lead with 9:39 left in the first half before Kentucky went on a 20-2 run over the next six minutes, seizing control of the game and carrying a 58-42 lead into halftime.

Alabama got within 14 in the second half at 68-54 with 16:45 left, but Kentucky shut down any hopes of rally with 12 unanswered points in less than 90 seconds, with Edwards accounting for seven of those points, including a four-point play.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: The Tide lost their tenuous hold on first-place in the SEC as No. 5 Tennessee beat Texas A&M 86-51 on Saturday night and moved into a tie atop the conference standings.

Kentucky: The Wildcats sorely needed a dominating home win after dropping three of their last four games in Rupp Arena. Kentucky kept alive a path to a double-bye in the conference tournament.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Alabama: The Tide should not be hurt too much by another road loss, although they did need overtime to beat Florida 98-93 on Wednesday.

Kentucky: The Wildcats should stay about where they are in the polls, despite blowing a 15-point lead on the road to LSU on Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Alabama: At Mississippi on Wednesday.

Kentucky: At Mississippi State on Tuesday.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball