Kentucky makes 13 of 19 3-pointers

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Patrick Sparks wanted the ball, and
Tubby Smith wasn't going to deny him.

Sparks hit five of his seven 3-pointers in the second half and
scored a season-high 26 points, lifting No. 5 Kentucky to a 78-71
comeback victory over Alabama (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today; No. 16 AP) on Saturday to clinch the
Wildcats' 43rd Southeastern Conference title.

Smith had no problem pinpointing the moment he knew Sparks was
feeling it.

"When he hollered over to me, 'Call my number, coach,' " he
said. "When he made the first one, we kept going to him."

Good strategy.

Led by Sparks, Kentucky (22-3, 13-1) turned a 14-point deficit
late in the first half into an eight-point cushion. Then the
Wildcats held off a late charge by going 8-for-10 from the free
throw line down the stretch, handing the Crimson Tide (21-6, 10-4)
its first home loss of the season.

Beating a team Smith called "talented enough to win it all" on
the road isn't a bad way to clinch an SEC title for the Wildcats.

Kentucky made a season-high 13 3-pointers on only 19 attempts.

"We caught fire," the Wildcats' Chuck Hayes said. "Anywhere
in the gym tonight, (Sparks) was going to hit it."

Sparks found an array of ways to get his shot off: teammates'
screens, nifty jukes and sometimes just stepping a few feet behind
the 3-point line and letting a long one fly. He had 20 points after
halftime, going 5-for-6 on 3-pointers.

"I caught my rhythm kind of early tonight," Sparks said.
"Shooting is a lot about rhythm. You get in that rhythm, and
you're going to have a good night."

After Alabama came within three points on Ronald Steele's jumper
with just under a minute left, Sparks sealed the victory. He
collected a rebound and hit three free throws in the final 34
seconds to wrap up the conference crown.

Sparks matched his career best with seven 3-pointers, something
the junior transfer had done twice before at Western Kentucky.

"Everything he threw up seemed to go in," said Kennedy
Winston, who scored 21 points and often had the task of trying to
guard Sparks.

Kelenna Azubuike added 15 points for Kentucky, which has won 12
of 13 games. Ravi Moss had 10 points while Hayes had nine points
but only three rebounds.

Winston went 5-for-9 on 3-point attempts. Chuck Davis had 15
first-half points but hardly touched the ball inside after that and
finished with 17. Alabama had a 13-game home winning streak

At one point during the Wildcats' second-half surge, Sparks
scored 11 consecutive Kentucky points, still finding ways to get
open 3s despite his hot streak.

Kentucky, which trailed by as many as 14 points before halftime,
took a 50-47 lead on a three-point play by Azubuike with 11:42 left
to cap a 13-0 run for its first lead since the opening minutes.

After that, the game was played at a faster tempo that favored
the deeper Wildcats, with Kentucky building a 70-62 lead on an open
dunk by Lukasz Obrzut.

"That was our No. 1 goal, to try to wear them down with our
bench," Smith said. "They were getting the same shots but their
legs were a little tired. And that's what our bench can do."

The Tide was coming off a last-second 61-59 loss at chief
Western Division challenger LSU and is still chasing a division
title. Alabama still would have been a longshot for an overall
title with a win, as Kentucky would have had to lose its final two

The Tide took a 36-29 halftime lead. Davis and Winston combined
for 18 of Alabama's first 20 points.

After that, Alabama scored 11 straight points to build a 33-19
lead late in the first half, including six more points from Davis,
before Kentucky closed the gap.

Davis was perfect in four field-goal attempts and seven free
throws while Winston hit four 3-pointers by halftime.

But the second half belonged to the Kentucky shooters.

"I don't think it was so much we did things poorly," Tide
coach Mark Gottfried said. "I think they just got some good things
done. Whether we defended well or not, they stepped up and knocked
some shots down."