Alabama closes the month of January by wrapping up a regular season sweep of our biggest rivals to improve to 6-2 while holding onto 4th place in the SEC standings.
We missed several layups in the first half and fell behind early, but the guys continued to grind it out defensively and keep the game close before closing the first half on a nice run that proved to be one of the turning points in the game. Coach Johnson had a great defensive gameplan, trapping their guards out of the zone and forcing them to work for everything they got offensively. We held Peters to 13 and Weatherspoon to 11.
The $tate bigs gave us some problems. Give Howland credit for running sets to pull Jimmie and Donta away from the basket. They actually out-rebounded us by a slight margin, and we weren't quite as effective defending the rim as we have been in recent games.
Nevertheless, this team found another way to win. They actually made free throws! We were 31 of 36 from the line for 86.1%. Who would have thought that was even possible? I've been calling for Dazon and Braxton to be more aggressive in driving to the basket against the zone in recent weeks, and that's exactly what they did in this game, particularly early in the second half. The result was an endless parade to the charity stripe, where Dazon was a perfect 12 for 12 and Key went 10 for 14.
We built a double digit lead, but couldn't quite put it away. We uncharacteristically gave up a number of second chance opportunities, and $tate managed to hang around. I felt like we got away from attacking the basket and settled for early shot-clock 3 point attempts too much after building the lead. Meanwhile $tate's play in the paint opened up their perimeter game and they chipped away before finally re-taking the lead.
Our guys showed great poise and immediately answered with a run of their own. In the crucial final 4 minutes of the game, $tate turned the ball over on 4 possessions in a row. Part of that was our guys stepping up and playing great defense at crunch time, and part of it was a young $tate team choking under pressure on the road. More importantly, we cashed in on every mistake and put the game out of reach.
Key is clearly taking to the role of being the "go to" guy on this team. He led the scoring with 19 points and also had 9 rebounds. Dazon scored 15 thanks to his perfect free throw shooting despite only scoring one basket from the field. Riley played awesome defense and made up for his missed layups by knocking down three 3-pointers and scoring 13 points. Bola was a beast on the boards again with 11 rebounds.
There were a lot of fouls called in the game, but it was a very physical game and I thought the officials generally did a good job, despite the one terrible block/charge call that went against us. It seemed like these officials may not have worked together much before, as there were some obvious communication issues. $tate got called for a technical foul for having 6 players on the floor. That should never happen, as the officials should not put the ball in play if one team has too many players on the floor. I didn't realize that was only a one shot technical and a resume play at the point of interruption in college. Also, they took the ball back from a $tate free throw shooter on a one and one because they missed the subs at the table. The only other time I've seen that at the college level was also in a Bama-$tate game, when Earnest Shelton was the victim in 2004.
It was a late arriving crowd, but a very nice turnout. The game was close to a sell out, and I would estimate there was close to 13,000 there. Surprisingly, the $tate contingent was limited to 300 or so way up in one of the corners, much less than they normally bring. It was a great atmosphere throughout, my only complaints are 1) empty seats near the floor when the upper levels appeared to be packed, the season ticket holders didn't turn out like the general public did, and 2) the mass exodus with 2 minutes remaining when we only had an 8 point lead.
Up next, a very tough matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 6pm on the SEC Network.