CatsIllustrated - Collins shines off bench in Kentucky's 66-55 win at Bama
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Collins shines off bench in Kentucky's 66-55 win at Bama

Kentucky freshman center/forward Daimion Collins slammed in two of his 10 points in the Wildcats' 66-55 win on Saturday night at Alabama.
Kentucky freshman center/forward Daimion Collins slammed in two of his 10 points in the Wildcats' 66-55 win on Saturday night at Alabama. (Gary Cosby Jr./USA Today Sports)

Kentucky may have found another piece to its eventual tournament rotation on Saturday night at Alabama.

Although he had logged only one minute of play in the Wildcats' last four games, freshman center/forward Daimion Collins came off the bench to give No. 5 Kentucky a major spark in a 66-55 win at Alabama.

Collins scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in nine stat-stuffing minutes of action backing up Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe, forcing UK coach John Calipari to reconsider his rotation moving forward.

"Daimion Collins was a difference-maker," Calipari said. "... What I love about it is I didn't play him for six games, five games... He now has forced me to try and figure out how to play him. He's gotta play. He's gotta play 15 minutes a game."

The former McDonald's All-American and consensus five-star prospect tallied double-figure points for the first time since scoring 12 on Nov. 26 against North Florida. He came within four of his career-high.

"Everybody here in the whole program knows what Daimion can do," said UK freshman guard TyTy Washington. "He's 6-10 with a 45-inch vertical. Just throw the ball up as high as you can. He'll catch it.

"He's been spending extra hours in the gym. Every time I go over there late nights, he's always there, so I knew his day was going to come. He just got his opportunity to play, and he didn't pout or nothing (when he wasn't)... He just went out and showed his athleticism on both sides of the ball."

The effort helped Kentucky turn a close game at the half (the Wildcats led 33-27) into what became a lopsided victory in the final minutes of play. UK led by as many as 17 before a late spurt by the Crimson Tide.

Kentucky (19-4, 8-2 SEC) was led by Washington with 15 points. Keion Brooks, Kellen Grady, Tshiebwe, and Collins each followed with 10 points on a balanced night for the Cats. They shot only 40% from the field but leaned on their defense to get the job done.

Alabama (14-9, 4-6 SEC) was held to 28.1% from the field, made just three of 30 from beyond the 3-point arc, and committed 15 turnovers leading to 17 points by UK.

Freshman center Charles Bediako led the Crimson Tide with 12 points. No other Alabama player reached double figures. Star guards Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, who came up large in the Tide's sweep of the Cats last season, had just 13 points on a combined 4-for-22 shooting night.

*****

In this "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the UK victory...

KEY MOMENT:

Alabama hung around until the 14:15 mark of the second half before Kentucky opened things up with a 9-0 run that included scoring from four different players. Davion Mintz sparked it with a driving bucket, followed by a lob to Daimion Collins, a short jumper by Jacob Toppin, and a three-point play by Kellen Grady off a steal and assist by Sahvir Wheeler. Before the Crimson Tide knew what happened, it was a 50-37 game. Alabama got no closer than nine the rest of the way.

GAME BALL:

Daimion Collins, Kentucky - The freshman big man forced John Calipari to consider him as another option in a deeper rotation as tournament time draws closer. Despite playing sparingly in recent weeks, he was ready when his number was called and responded with 10 points on 2-for-3 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting at the free-throw line.

BY THE NUMBERS:

10% - Alabama's 3-for-30 shooting night from 3-point range featured the most misses in a game against Kentucky since West Virginia went 10-for-37 in a 2005 matchup.

16-4 - The Wildcats' edge in fast-break points.

17th - Double-double of the season for UK's Oscar Tshiebwe, who scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

47-44 - The Crimson Tide lost despite topping the nation's leading rebounding team on the glass. It marked the second straight game that the Cats have lost the rebound battle but were still able to win.

115-40 - Kentucky's lead in the all-time series against Alabama. The Cats now have 41 wins over the Crimson Tide in the state of Alabama, more than the Crimson Tide have in the entire series.

QUOTABLE:

"This may be the best team I've ever coached that locks into the gameplan and pulls it off." -- UK coach John Calipari

UP NEXT:

Kentucky travels to South Carolina on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. ET tipoff against the Gamecocks. South Carolina (13-9, 4-6 SEC) lost 81-57 to Tennessee on Saturday in Columbia.