Alabama Coach Avery Johnson has had a number of “firsts” this year, his first at Alabama and his first as a college basketball coach. All of them have excited him, and he’s excited as he and the Crimson Tide approach his first Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, highs and lows,” Johnson said of Alabama’s season. The Crimson Tide has done better than expected, but, he said, he has been disappointed in the past few games as Bama limped in with only one win in its last five games.
Johnson said, “We were picked to finish 13th and we came within a couple of games of finishing sixth” in the SEC. I’m proud of our guys. We won a lot of games we weren’t supposed to win.”
Now the Tide coach hopes his team can win more games that it’s not supposed to win.
Alabama is the No. 10 seed in the SEC Tournament, which begins Wednesday at Bri?gestone Arena in Nashville. The Crimson Tide will play on the second day, facing No. 7 seed Ole Miss at 6 p.m. CST Thursday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
The Tide (17-13) and Rebels (20-11) met only once this season in Alabama’s first league game of the year. The contest, which was the first game ever played in the new Pavilion at Ole Miss, was a tale of two halves. Alabama led by as many as 10 points in the first half and took a 40-32 lead at intermission. However, Ole Miss outscored the Tide 42-26 in the second half and claimed a 74-66 victory.
Retin Obasohan led the Tide with 23 points, while Arthur Edwards finished with a career-high tying 17. Ole Miss was led by Sebastian Saiz’s 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Stefan Moody also added 21 points in the victory.
The winner of the Tide and Rebels will advance to face No. 2 seed Kentucky on Friday at 6.
Johnson was asked about upsets in the tournament. “We’re the 10th seed and Ole Miss is the seventh seed and they beat us in the regular season, so if we defeat Ole Miss that would be an upset,” he said. “If we’re able to do that, then we play Kentucky, who beat us twice in the season, so if we were able to beat Kentucky that would be a huge upset.”
For that first upset, Johnson said Alabama has to play better than was the case in the first meeting against the Rebels. He pointed out that the SEC’s leading scorer, Stefan Moody, had 21 points in that game two months ago in Oxford. Additionally, Sebastian Saiz, had 21 points and 16 rebounds.
Johnson believes that any team can win the tournament, pointing out that Bama had wins against some of the top teams in the league. Bama’s worksheet includes a win over No. 1 seed Texas A&M as well as against LSU, South Carolina, and Florida – the LSU and Florida wins on the road. But, he said, “the teams at the top are the ones that have been the most consistent.”
The Tide coach said that it would be possible to boost the Bama resume for the NCAA tournament “with a win or two, or two or three. The winner of our game with Ole Miss plays Kentucky in the next round. We have a resume with four wins vs. ranked teams and some good wins in the SEC.” But, he said, there will be no “boost” to the resume without a win over the Rebels Thursday.
Johnson was asked about Alabama’s disappointing finish to regular season play and whether it was because the opponents played well or because his Tide team “ran out of gas.”
He said, “Probably both. We have a lot of guys who haven’t experienced being in games with tournament implications. We’re not that deep and had to expend some guys, the high 30s (minutes). But give our opponents credit.”
Alabama is led by All-SEC candidate Retin Obasohan, who has averaged over 20 points per game in conference games and 17.7 for the season. Forward Shannon Hale, who ordinarily comes off the bench, had a season-high 25 points in Bama’s loss to Georgia in the final regular season game. Arthur Edwards averages 9.2 points per game. Low post player Jimmie Taylor has blocked 57 shots, and his back-up, Donta Hall, has 44 blocks.