Stuart McNair

Alabama takes good defense in going for fifth road win of season

Alabama and Missouri are two of SEC’s weakest shooting teams

An adage in athletics is that defense travels. To be sure, Alabama takes a good defensive team on the road this week when the Crimson Tide goes to Missouri. Moreover, Bama will be playing defense against a team that is well down the list in offensive statistics. The problem for Alabama is that the Tide also struggles to score.
Alabama and Missouri will tip off in Columbia at 7:30 p.m. CST Wednesday in a game that will be televised on SEC Network.
The Crimson Tide is 14-10 overall and 7-5 in Southeastern Conference games and has a 4-2 conference road record. The Tigers are 7-17 overall and 2-10 in SEC play, but Missouri has won its last two home games, against Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
No one would suggest that Alabama has been any kind of an offensive machine, averaging just 70.9 points per game. That’s 12th in the SEC in league games. But Missouri is worse, 13th, and averaging 68.7 points per game.
Alabama is third in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 70.3 per game, while Missouri is tied for 10th, allowing 76.8.
Alabama is 11th and Missouri 13th in field goal percentage, the Tide is 12th and the Tigers 13th in three-point shooting, and Mizzou is 12th, Bama 14th in free throw percentage.
In other words, nothing points to a shootout.
Alabama Coach Avery Johnson calls Missouri “much improved” since the teams met four weeks ago. On Jan. 18, Alabama defeated Missouri by 68-56 in Tuscaloosa. This will be the Tide’s first trip to Mizzou arena since Jan. 18, 2014. The teams have played four times in Tuscaloosa in the interim with the Tide winning all four.
Johnson said that Missouri has changed its playing rotation since the last meeting and that the Tigers have gotten a boost from guard Terrence Phillips starting and with Mizzou getting good outside shooting from forward Kevin Puryear and sixth man Jordan Barnett.
Johnson also cited Missouri’s “physicality” inside with Puryear (6-7, 243) and Russell Woods (6-8, 236).
Mostly, though, Johnson has concerns about Alabama inconsistency. Specifically, he cites turnovers and poor free throw shooting.
Bama hasn’t just begun to practice free throws. It has been a point of emphasis throughout the season, but results have often been lacking. Johnson said practice in that area has been better this week and he hopes the result is more confidence at the line.
While much of the attention has been on Alabama’s poor performance on foul shots, Johnson pointed out, “There have been a lot of positives in our game, too,” citing defense and rebounding. The Tide leads the SEC in offensive rebounding, is second in defensive boards, and has a league-best plus 7.6 rebounding margin.
Johnson said, “We don’t want to have unrealistic goals for this team. One of these years we’ll be a ranked team in the preseason, one of the top teams in the SEC. But not now.”
Johnson said a constant in Alabama’s road success has been the Tide getting off to a good start offensively.
“We have to start the game better,” he said. “When we play the right way, we can be a good team.”

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