Bama Hoops Opens with Win

Kennedy Winston led the 18th-ranked Alabama basketball squad to an easy 97-66 win in its season opener against Western Carolina Friday, in what he and many Tide fans hope will be a second straight banner year for Mark Gottfried's program.

Last year's squad was recognized just before the tip, when Alabama officials dropped the 2003-04 "Elite 8" banner into its place among the rafters.

The win was just shy of the 52-0 margin of victory for the Alabama-Western Carolina football game earlier in the year.

Winston scored a game high 24 points, while Chuck Davis and Earnest Shelton scored 16 points each. Jean Felix was the fourth Tide player in double figures with 11. Freshman point guard Ron Steele dished out seven assists and did not commit a turnover, managing the Alabama offensive attack. He shot twice (1-of-2) from the field and scored three points.

"He's not a freshman - he plays way above that level," Winston said of Steele's play. "He did pretty good tonight in getting our guys the ball in good spots and pushing the ball. He got me going in the second half and that's really what he's supposed to do. He controlled the flow of the game."

Steele logged the most minutes of any Alabama player, 28. In Steele's three-minute absence in the first half with Earnest Shelton running the point, the Tide offense seemed to have trouble creating good looks. Shelton drove and created a quality shot for himself, and Jean Felix made a tough turnaround jumper while Steele was on the bench.

Shelton said filling the point position was "an adjustment. Something I've got to get used to."

"We learned a lot about our team," Shelton said. "We were able to come out good defensively and finally our shots started falling for us."

Alabama is 1-0 on the season while Western Carolina dropped to 0-4. Catamount center David Berghoefer led the way for WCU with 23 points.

"We've got a lot of things to work on, but it's the first game and a lot of guys played," Winston said. We have things to work on but the effort was there."

Winston said his knee that has been healing from arthroscopic surgery in June, "felt fine" in 25 minutes of play.

The highlight reel hoop of the night came when Jean Felix first touched the ball. On a breakaway steal, Felix pumped the ball with two hands and came around with a rim-rocking dunk to finish the fast break.

Among the things to work on were things typical of an early-season game: free throw shooting and transition defense. Alabama shot 61 percent (11-18) from the foul stripe in the first half, and 63.6 percent for the game (21-of-33). The Tide got beat back down the floor by the Catamounts on several occasions, giving up easy baskets.

"I thought they did a good job," Gottfried said. "They've got a lot to learn and at times they looked like freshmen. But they showed that they have potential too."

Alabama started slowly, trailing 9-8 at the first official timeout just over four minutes into the game before mounting a 16-4 run, opening up an 11 point lead with just under 11 minutes remaining in the first half.

Alabama had an 11-0 run in the middle of the second half, extending its lead to 74-41 and making way for a second-half bench clearing.

In addition to his 16 points, Davis led all players in rebounding with eight. Jermareo Davidson scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in 16 minutes, and Al Weber was 4-of-6 from the field, also scoring eight points. Justin Jonus had six points in 17 minutes of action, and Evan Brock had three points and five rebounds in his 18 minutes. Shawn Taylor rounded out Alabama's scoring with two points.

Lucky Williams, LaKory Daniels, Brandon Davis and Akini Adkins played but did not score.

The Tide returns to action Sunday afternoon as Alabama plays host to North Texas before traveling to Anchorage, Ak. to play in the Great Alaska Shootout over the Thanksgiving holidays. Tip-off for the game against the Mean Green is set for 3:30 p.m. The game can be heard on the Crimson Tide Sports Network.

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