Gottfried discusses his players

Still savoring the road win over Kentucky, Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried met with the media Monday afternoon. For the first time since he took over at Alabama, Gottfried's squad is a consensus Top Ten selection, rated 8th in the coaches poll and 7th by the Associated Press. <br><br>"We've had a much more balanced team this season," Gottfried said.

"Before, (our scoring) would mainly be Rod (Grizzard) or Erwin (Dudley). And they're still the top guys. But now you'll see (Antoine) Pettway or (Mo) Williams or (Kenny) Walker step up in certain games. We've been balanced inside and out lately."

Together Grizzard and Dudley are averaging 30.3 points per game. But that total only represents 38 percent of the Tide scoring. By a tenth of a point, Grizzard is the Tide's leading scorer.

However, fan criticism of Grizzard has often been pointed. Poor shot selection and inconsistent play are frequent complaints. But Gottfried has a different perspective.

Despite a lower average per game, Grizzard is still Alabama's leading scorer. (Associated Press)

"Teams just know Rod's game better this year," Gottfried said. "In your conference, everybody knows how you play, and you have to elevate your game that much better. He started the season off better with his (shot selection). But the SEC schools know Rod and have been guarding him well."

For most of last season Grizzard led the SEC in scoring, but that role has changed. Gottfried explained; "Rod's found other ways to help us, rebounding and drawing fouls. The absence of Gerald Wallace and (Sam) Haginas on the inside has made that inevitable. He has had to improve his rebounding or we have no chance. The whole squad has to rebound better, if we have any chance to win."

Along with his 15.2 points per game, Grizzard is third on the team in rebounding, behind only Dudley and Walker. On the season Grizzard is shooting .424, but that number drops drastically to only .278 on three-point attempts.

"He does need to be more efficient with his scoring," Gottfried acknowledged. "I've talked to Rod about his shooting percentage. I've also talked to him about his turnovers and assists. Before his ratio has been almost 2-to-1 in the opposite direction."

This season Grizzard has 44 assists and 53 turnovers, for a 1-to-1.2 ratio.

"There is a fine line," Gottfried continued. "You've got to give your scorers room to play and create their own shot. I don't get too concerned with who thinks what. I've seen Rod help our team win too many times. He needs to improve, but we all do. I think he's doing fine."

Point guard Mo Williams is the only new starter this season. (AllSport)

The most publicized addition to this year's squad, point guard Mo Williams has so far lived up to his very high billing. "If we're a better team this year, hopefully it will show at the point guard position," Gottfried said. "Mo is just a freshman, but I like his attitude and what he brings. He doesn't fear too much."

Williams is averaging 10.3 points per game, fourth on the squad. His 89 assists are more than twice as many as any other teammate, and the 6-1 guard has also contributed 70 rebounds.

"I think Mo will be fine," Gottfried said. "He walked into Rupp Arena last Saturday on national television and played well for a true freshman."

Shooting guard Terrence Meade has struggled in recent games, but Gottfried hasn't lost confidence in his junior leader. "We need Terrence Meade to play well," Gottfried said. "The team needs Terrence. The team needs his shooting. Others are playing better right now, but we need everybody. Terrence will still start."

A mainstay in the lineup in past seasons, Meade's minutes have dropped as he's worked to find his shooting touch. But his 10.5 points per game is still third on the squad.

In recent games Meade has struggled to find his shooting touch. (Associated Press)

"I tell him that I believe in Terrence Meade, and he knows that," Gottfried said. "We will need his shooting before the season is over. Period. That's not a motivational tool. That's the truth. He'll be fine. I don't worry too much about Terrence."

Stepping up to shoulder the load, sophomore guard Antoine Pettway has played the best basketball of his career the last few games. "You've got to go with who is hot, and Antoine is playing well," Gottfried said. "He has really helped us this year in cutting down on our turnovers. Plus, he's penetrating well. Several of Erwin's old-fashioned three-point plays have come as a result of Pettway's penetration."

Last Saturday versus the Wildcats Pettway played 32 minutes, contributing 17 points and four rebounds. And the former walk-on has become a sparkplug for the Tide defense. Gottfried explained; "When Antoine is on the floor, he makes our entire defense better. His intensity forces everyone to take it a step up."

Another player making a move for more playing time, 6-3, 215-pound Demetrius Smith is developing into a defensive specialist for the Tide. "Demetrius has been really good," Gottfried said. "He accepts any role he's given defensively.

"Demetrius is willing to take a charge. He's had several games defending against bigger players. Every team is looking for that guy in the 6-3 to 6-7 range to defend on the wing. He's becoming a guy that likes that challenge."

Guard Demetrius Smith has turned into a versatile player for Bama.

Playing in all 20 games, Smith averages more than 14 minutes per game. He has 17 assists, six steals and 31 rebounds to his credit.

"The biggest thing about Demetrius is he's making smart plays when we need him," Gottfried said. "He gives us an extra ball handler when he's on the court. He's a strong athlete with a good body, and people don't think of him that way. But he gives us another point guard. He handles the ball well and often settles the team down.

Shooting guard Earnest Shelton had been sidelined with a knee injury, but the true freshman returned to action Saturday. "Shelton played versus Kentucky, and he's back now," Gottfried said. "He just needs the minutes."

Improved play from Pettway and Smith, coupled with the return of Shelton from injury, have all combined to limit the playing time of former starting guard Travis Stinnett. But Gottfried knows the team will need Stinnett's scoring before the season is done. "Guys like Travis have got to keep themselves ready. We can't afford to lose anybody mentally."

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