Tide rides early run to big win over Utes

There were a number of good things about Alabama's 76-61 victory over Utah in a men's basketball game at Coleman Coliseum Monday night. For Coach Mark Gottfried's Crimson Tide, it was a solid victory over a well-coached opponent, the second consecutive such win. Even though the Utah team of Coach Rick Majerus is not a great one, it provided Alabama with a challenge and Bama responded.

Alabama, which had defeated 12th-ranked Memphis in its previous outing, appeared to have its mind firmly on business in hosting Utah, the prestige home game on Alabama's pre-Southeastern Conference schedule. Alabama scored the first seven points of the game, had a 10-point lead just under five minutes into the game, and led by as many as 21 points in the first half before taking a 42-26 halftime lead. The Tide led by as many as 22 points in the second half and the Utes never drew closer than 14.

Bama, which remained ranked 22nd in the nation in this week's Coaches' Poll conducted by ESPN and USA Today and in the AP poll, is now 4-1, while Utah fell to 2-2.

"It was a good win for our players and our program," said Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried. "Hopefully it will give us help later in the year. And it should work in our favor when the (NCAA Tournament) selection committee meets later on. We've got some more tough games staring at us, so we can't get complacent. We want that prize at the end of the year."

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the nationally-televised (ESPN2) game is that it attracted a relatively small crowd. Although official attendance (which includes sold, but unused, tickets) was 8,767, there did not appear to be near that many on hand. However, that crowd will look like a Super Bowl gathering compared to what can be expected for Bama's next home game. That's because the Tide will host McNeese State at 8 p.m. Thursday. The game was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. but was changed for a local telecast. Most Alabama fans will be in Birmingham Thursday night when the Crimson Tide football team has its final regular season game of the year against Southern Mississippi.

Alabama did not always look smooth on offense against a very good Utah defense, but the Crimson Tide was relentless against the Utah offense. Both teams went strictly man-to-man in the fast-paced game.

"We played a smaller lineup for most of the game," Gottfried said. "That allowed us to switch up on defense and put pressure on the ball. We wanted to push the ball, attack their defense and get down the floor quickly. We got some easy baskets and open looks."

Terrance Meade paced four Alabama players in double figures. Meade was good on 9-of-13 free throws and had 18 total points. Rod Grizzard had 16 points, Erwin Dudley 12, and Kenny Walker, who scored the first seven points of the game, had 10. "We played hard, executed things well, and got the job done," Grizzard said. "They really do have a great team."

Utah is a very large team, but Alabama stayed reasonably close on the boards. The Utes won the rebounding battle, but only by 34-30. Dudley led all rebounders with 11. Utah had a scoring advantage inside, 24 points to Bama's 18. But Alabama had 24 points off turnovers to only 14 by Utah. Utah was guilty of 21 turnovers, Alabama 16. "The turnovers helped us in the first half, especially," Gottfried said. "By pressuring the ball we disrupted their motion offense."

Alabama freshman guard Mo Williams didn't have much of a scoring night. He was in foul trouble early and finished with only two shots from the field and only four points. But he had seven assists against only three turnovers.

Bama had a reasonably good shooting night from the field, hitting 53 per cent of its field goals and 43 per cent of its three-point attempts. However, Alabama was poor from the free throw line, making only 18 of 29 foul shots (62 per cent). Defensively, the Tide held Utah to only 39 per cent shooting from the field and only 29 per cent of three-pointers. Jeff Johnsen led Utah with 11 points, five boards, and three steals while younger brother Britton Johnsen added 10 points and pulled down four rebounds.

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