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Sparks lifts UK over Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Patrick 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 16th-ranked Alabama on Saturday to clinch the Wildcats' 43rd Southeastern Conference title.

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 its first home loss of the season.

Kentucky made 13 of 19 3-pointers, including Sparks' 5-of-6 performance in the second half.

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 scored 20 in the second half - and matched his career best with seven 3-pointers, something the junior transfer had done twice before at Western Kentucky.

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

Kennedy Winston went 5-for-9 on 3-point attempts and led Alabama with 21 points. However, he was unable finish a few drives to the basket and finished 7-of-18 shooting.

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 snapped.

Steele had 10 points and five assists to win a duel of freshman point guards over Rajon Rondo, who had two points and seven assists despite playing with a bruised rib.

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.

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 games.

The Tide took a 36-29 halftime lead thanks to the inside-outside combination of Davis and Winston. The duo combined for 18 of Alabama's first 20 points.

Then 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.