GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Despite statistical proof that playing Alabama brought out his best this season, Kentucky forward Alex Poythress summed up his outstanding play against the Crimson Tide as pure coincidence.
Wherever his motivation came from, the No. 16 Wildcats benefited.
Jamal Murray scored 23 points, Poythress made a career-best four 3-pointers and Kentucky had an easy time in an 85-59 rout of Alabama on Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Playing about 50 miles southeast of his Clarksville, Tennessee, home, Poythress put on an offensive show in his final SEC tournament with 7-of-8 shooting including 4 of 5 from long range for 20 points. It was his third 20-point game this season and first since posting a career-best 25 at Alabama on Jan. 9.
Not that that meant anything.
“Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t, you know,” said Poythress, who averaged 19.6 points in three games against Alabama this season. “Everybody was just great offensively. We played a complete game today.”
Murray added perimeter shots as second-seeded Kentucky finished 13 of 22 from behind the arc to beat the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide (18-14) for the third time this season. The Wildcats advanced to Saturday’s semifinal against the Georgia-South Carolina winner.
Tyler Ulis added 17 points for the Wildcats, who beat the Crimson Tide by an average margin of 22 points this season.
Arthur Edwards had 20 points and Retin Obasohan 18, but Alabama couldn’t keep pace with the hot-shooting Wildcats.
The Crimson Tide certainly had no answer for Poythress, especially when he stepped out behind the arc.
“We came into the game trying to minimize his success in the paint and wanted to contest him at three,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said, “but we didn’t expect him to shoot the ball like Jamal Murray. He made some shots. He had it going.”
Kentucky’s postseason prospects were already set, and the aim this weekend is to earn the highest possible seeding when the field is announced on Sunday. The Wildcats took an impressive first step toward being high in the bracket with 55 percent shooting from the field.
Alabama’s postseason chances remain up in the air, but the Crimson Tide’s second game in as many nights ended with 42 percent shooting and 13 turnovers. They were also outrebounded 31-27.
Kentucky wasn’t so good at the start, making just 4 of first 11 shots and showing a little rust from having not played because of their double bye. The Wildcats regrouped to hit 10 of their final 15 first-half shots to lead 37-27 at the break and were even better from behind the arc (6 of 10), with Poythress making a couple to help them gain some distance.
The Crimson Tide meanwhile struggled more for baskets than the previous night against Mississippi, making just 10 of 26 from the field. Three-point shooting (5 of 12) provided a bright spot, and Alabama had just one fewer rebound than the Wildcats but needed big games from nearly everybody in order to pull off the upset.
Even at their best, the Tide faced an uphill battle keeping pace with Kentucky’s outside game that stayed hot in the second half. Ulis made back-to-back shots before Murray added one to build a 55-37 lead, and the Wildcats were well on their way toward a semifinal appearance.
“We shot the ball well,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide finished 9 of 25 from 3-point range.
Kentucky: Dominique Hawkins and Skal Labissiere each added seven points for the Wildcats, who also had 18 assists.
Alabama: Awaiting postseason announcement.
Kentucky: Faces Georgia-South Carolina winner in Saturday’s semifinal.
Norris 0-5 2-4 2, Kessens 2-3 0-0 4, Edwards 7-12 0-0 20, Taylor 1-4 0-0 2, Obasohan 6-12 5-7 18, Schaffer 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 0-5 0-0 0, Hale 3-5 0-0 8, Austin 0-2 1-2 1, Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Hall 0-0 4-6 4. Totals 19-48 12-19 59.
Labissiere 3-6 1-2 7, Ulis 5-11 5-5 17, Briscoe 1-5 2-5 4, Poythress 7-8 2-2 20, Murray 8-15 2-2 23, Lee 1-1 0-0 2, Matthews 0-0 0-0 0, Mulder 0-0 0-0 0, Humphries 0-0 0-0 0, Floreal 0-0 0-0 0, Hawkins 3-5 0-0 7, Willis 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 30-55 12-16 85.
Halftime_Kentucky 37-27. 3-Point Goals_Alabama 9-26 (Edwards 6-10, Hale 2-3, Obasohan 1-3, Austin 0-2, Coleman 0-4, Norris 0-4), Kentucky 13-22 (Murray 5-9, Poythress 4-5, Ulis 2-2, Hawkins 1-3, Willis 1-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Alabama 27 (Norris 7), Kentucky 31 (Poythress 7). Assists_Alabama 4 (Obasohan 2), Kentucky 18 (Briscoe 6). Total Fouls_Alabama 14, Kentucky 16. A_NA.