Releford Fabulous, But Tide Boots One

Some things are difficult to figure out, or accept. Alabama had a 10-point lead at LSU with under three minutes to play. The local youth league coach would tell his team with that situation to: (a) run the clock, (b) take good shots, and (c) don't foul.

We don't know what Alabama Coach Anthony Grant told his team. We know Bama did none of the above, squandered the lead, and then lost what may have been a must-win game against LSU in Baton Rouge in triple overtime, 97-94.

Alabama led 69-59 with the clock under three minutes in regulation and LSU had just missed a free throw. Alabama not only did not get the rebound – a regular Bama occurrence Saturday – but also fouled. This time LSU made two free throws, starting a 10-0 run to close out regulation at 69-69 and send the game to overtime.

LSU made a three-point shot early in the first overtime, which was the first lead for the Tigers since the first half. Even giving up two uncontested layups, Alabama had the ball for the last shot opportunity at the end of overtime. (Alabama also had that chance at the end of regulation, but Bama has a poor track record on such opportunities.) The Tide did have the ball in the right hands as Trevor Releford – who would score a career high 36 points – drove and put up a short shot that came off the rim. Rodney Cooper was there for the tip-in, but it came just after the buzzer, setting up a second overtime with the score tied at 76-76.

An unfortunate staple of late regulation play and the first overtime had been LSU making unguarded lay-ups. The Tigers started the second overtime with one and then got a three-point shot from an unguarded Andre Stringer for a five-point lead. Cooper got a couple of baskets to keep the Tide in it and with 1:44 Releford drove the lane, made the shot, and was fouled. He knocked it down to tie the game. Incredibly, Stringer was left open again, and again made a three-pointer.

Alabama did a lot of fouling and missed a lot of loose balls and defensive rebounds. After a Tide foul and missed free throw by the Tigers, LSU got the rebound and Alabama fouled again. This time Johnny O'Bryant made two free throws and LSU had an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds to play. Cooper knocked down a three-pointer to tie the game and LSU missed a couple of tough tries to bring on overtime number three.

Nick Jacobs got a tip-in to start the overtime, but LSU got a free throw, a wide open layup, and a wide open three-pointer and had a 94-90 lead with under 40 seconds to play.

Releford tried his best. He was good on a short shot and was fouled. He missed the free throw, and Bama had to foul. O'Bryant made two more free throws for the Tigers for a four-point lead. Releford made two free throws with 5.5 seconds to play, pulling Bama to within two points, 96-94. LSU had a hard time getting the ball in and it went off an LSU man out-of-bounds, but Releford was called for a foul on the play. LSU made one free throw and Trevor Lacey was unable to get off the desperation three-point shot in time.

Alabama returns to Tuscaloosa Tuesday, hosting Auburn in a game that will tip off at 6 p.m. CST and be televised by ESPNU. Bama suffered a bad loss to the Tigers on Feb. 6, falling 49-37 in Auburn.

The loss ended a modest four-game winning streak for Alabama. Although there are several important games to be played, this was considered one that Bama probably needed to win to impress the NCAA National Championship Tournament Selection Committee that the Crimson Tide is a worthwhile team for the tourney.

Alabama fell to 18-9 overall and 10-4 in Southeastern Conference play. LSU improved to 16-9 overall and 7-7 in the conference.

The keys to the game were LSU out-rebounding Alabama by 47-38 (the Tiders had 13 offensive boards) and the Tigers having 37 free throw opportunities to Alabama's 19. The Tide shots its relatively few foul shots well, making 16-19 (84.2 per cent), but in this case quantity overcame quality. The Tigers shot only 67.6 per cent, but made 25 freebies. the more than off-set the Tide's six-point advantage from the field.

Alabama made 35-76 field goals (46.1 per cent) and 8-21 three-pointers (38.1 per cent) to LSU's 32-68 from the field (47.1 per cent) and 8-20 treys (40 per cent).

Releford was magnificent on offense for the Tide. He made 14-18 field goals, including 4-4 three-pointers, and 4-5 free throws for 36 points. He also had three assists, three steals, and five rebounds, and only one turnover in 50 minutes of play.

Alabama got 18 points from Cooper (but he made only 7-22 shots, including 2-8 on treys), 11 from Lacey, and 10 from Nick Jacobs.

Five players were in double figures for LSU, led by O'Bryant with 24 points and 10 rebounds in 51 minutes of play.

LSU outsocred Alabama 44-34 in the paint and 17-12 on second chance points, but the Tide scored 25 points off 16 LSU turnovers, the Tigers 20 points off the Tide's 13 turnovers.

The game was tied nine times and there were 16 lead changes, most of that coming in the first half.

Alabama should have had momentum going to second half after the Tide got clutch three-point shots from Lacey and Andrew Steele – back in the playing rotation after missing two games with an ankle injury -- in the last minute of the first half to give Bama a 36-31 lead.

Although LSU started the half with a trey, Bama kept building on a lead. First of all, Releford matched the LSU three-pointer with a steal (which made him the Tide's career record-holder) and length of court lay-up and free throw.

Alabama built the lead to 7 and then 8 and then 9. The bad news was that Alabama was committing fouls and getting the Tigers into good position for an advantage at the foul line.

When Releford hit a trey with 7:25 to play, the Tide was up by 61-53. After an LSU free throw, Releford made his fourth three-pointer in as many tries and Bama was up by 10 points with 6:45 to play.

With 3:35 to play, Levi Randolph's put-back gave Alabama a 69-59 lead. The Tide would not score again in regulation. Meanwhile, LSU scored six free throws (Alabama shot none in that period).

The first half was a back-and-forth game until the final minute, when Lacey hit a shot-clock beater three-pointer to put the Tide up 33-31. LSU seemed to be playing for the last shot, but an Alabama trap on the defensive end forced a turnover and the Tigers giving the ball up with under three seconds until intermission. Bama got the ball into Andrew Steele, who got his three-pointer away just before the buzzer. It bounced a time or two, and then fell through for a five-point Tide halftime lead.

It was over three minutes into the game before there was any score, LSU getting off to a 3-0 lead, then a 6-2 margin, and 8-4 before the Tide began to move.

Although Bama was guilty of several careless turnovers, and also suffered some turnovers because of LSU's ball-hawking defense, at the 13-minute mark a putback by Rodney Cooper gave Bama a 10-9 lead it was a back-and-forth game. Really. Thirteen lead changes in the first half.

Nick Jacobs gave Bama a little offensive punch, but it was mostly Releford with 14 points and Lacey with seven in the opening stanza.

LSU star O'Bryant had only six points in the first half and didn't get his first points until banking in a jumper from about the free throw line with just over three minutes until intermission.

TIDE NOTES: Trevor Releford came into the game needing just two steals to become the all-time leader in steals. Releford got three and now has the Bama record of 178. Senario Hillman had 176 takeaways in his four-year career.

Alabama's defensive performance of having held 11 straight opponents to under 60 points came to a half even before the three overtime periods. It was 69-69 at the end of regulation. Still, Bama has held 18 of 27 opponents this season under 60.

Alabama and LSU played just two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Bama taking a 60-57 decision.

Alabama's starting lineup has been solidified, it seems. For the ninth consecutive game, Bama started with junior center Moussa Gueye surruounded by junior guard Trevor Releford and sophomore guards Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, and Rodney Cooper.

Andrew Steele, who had been out of the lineup for two games with an ankle injury, was back in the playing rotation. There had also been some concern in the Alabama camp on whether Nick Jacobs could play because of a back problem, but he did play.

Alabama and LSU have played 170 times. Bama's lead in the series is 102-68.

The start of the second half was delayed a few minutes because of a halftime act. But not because the act, trampoline basketball dunkers, ran over their time limit. It was because they ripped the cords of one basket. The replacement job took awhile, delaying Alabama's warm-ups and the start of the second half.

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