If you play good defense, you will at least have a chance to win every game. This team is the perfect illustration of that statement. Alabama ranks #1 in the SEC and #8 in the nation in scoring defense, and we find ourselves 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2002 despite making only one 3 point shot in our first two games.
It was not an easy win. South Carolina played some great defense too, and they made just enough perimeter shots to keep it close. USC started out in a tight man to man that seemed to really bother our guards, then switched to a zone when Releford and Hines had to come out of the game in the first half with foul trouble.
Ben Eblen provided us with some good minutes at point guard. He played great defense, showed some quick hands, even made a shot and got a rebound or two. Chris Hines did not put up impressive numbers, and he never does, but we are a much better team when he is on the floor. He sets good screens, boxes out, and does the little things to take some pressure off of JaMychal and Tony Mitchell.
I liked the fact that we did not get frustrated and start jacking 3s against their zone. We were 0 for 3 from down town, and it was obvious that our guards were not going to have a good night shooting. Credit South Carolina's defense with that to some degree, but we continued to attack the basket and get high percentage (although mostly highly contested as well) shots in close range. JaMychal and Tony scored 20 and 16 respectively. It was a physical game, and we held our own. I was impressed with USC's Murdrow, he plays great defense and is a shot blocking machine. I was very proud of the way our post players handled him and USC's other bigs defensively.
Ted Valentine is the most overrated official in the history of basketball. He could not even bend over to pick up the ball last night due to his bad back, but he was still out there showboating and calling attention to himself. Tony Mitchell had a shot "blocked" in the first half, but the USC defender came from the other side of the court and jumped into him. To say he got him with the body would be an understatement. I'm pretty sure he clocked Mitchell upside the head when he followed through with his swat as well, both players go crashing to the floor, and no foul is called.
This team still has some problems. Free throw shooting continues to suck, and we most likely won't be able to keep winning by making only one 3 pointer every 2 games. Defensively, there were a couple of times in the second half when we allowed the USC guard to dribble the length of the floor in transition. We need to do a better job of stopping the ball in those instances. I am concerned with how we handled the press and trap at the end when USC was trying to make their last run. Nevertheless, this squad appears to be coming together and forming an identity. I like the chemistry of this team. Hines is stepping up and being a vocal leader on the court, which is what you are looking for in a senior. The team is playing with a lot of energy and intensity, and having a lot of fun. The guys who have lost playing time, especially Hankerson who went from starting earlier this year to not playing at all in the USC game, are into the game and putting the team first. Hankerson was by far the most excited in the post game celebration last night.
The crowd was awesome last night, especially the students! It was a late arriving crowd, which surprised me with an 8pm tipoff, but the student section was filled beyond capacity. Rather than turning students away once their section was filled, they were allowed to come in and sit in the empty seats in the corners. Kudos to our gameday administration officials for doing the right thing. The additional students made for a great atmosphere, and all 11,000 or so fans were loud and into the game. Hopefully this will continue, as protecting our home court is going to be a key to having a successful season.
Up next, we travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. Tip off is set for Saturday at 12:30 pm Central time, and will be televised on the SEC Network. I posted this
story in the comments below, but if you haven't seen it yet, it is a must read on the tragic bond between Coach Grant, Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey, and Billy Donovan.