Tide Falls To South Carolina

Did Alabama's basketball scouting report for South Carolina say don't worry about Renaldo Balkman? After all, the 6-9 forward looks like a girl and runs like a girl and had averaged only 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. If letting Balkman do as he pleased was the plan, it worked to perfection.

Balkman out-hustled every Alabama player and made every play imagineable in leading South Carolina to an easy 67-56 win over the Crimson Tide in Columbia Tuesday night.

Balkman blistered Bama for a career-high 28 points and embarrassed the Tide big men with a career-high-tying 16 rebounds in leading the South Carolina effort.

The loss dropped Alabama to 14-9 overall and 7-4 in Southeastern Conference play. South Carolina's third straight win improved the Gamecocks to 14-10 and 5-6.

By virtue of the Tuesday night game, Bama has an extra day to lick its wounds and/or prepare for Saturday. Preparation will be in order. The best team in the SEC comes to Tuscaloosa Saturday when Bama hosts Tennessee at 3 p.m. CST. The game is sold out. Tennessee is leading the SEC with a 9-1 record and will likely be 10-1 when coming in Saturday.

Alabama built a four-point lead midway through the first half, but lost that and was lucky to be down only two points at 28-26 at intermission. Bama scored the first basket of the second half to tie the score, then saw the Gamecocks pull away to as much as a 16-point lead.

While the Gamecocks were scoring on unguarded treys and putbacks and drives and nice passes to open men under the basket, Alabama was having a difficult time holding onto the basketball, suffering key turnovers, and missing when shots were taken. Bama had 15 turnovers.

Conventional wisdom had it that Alabama would be able to dominate inside with its big men, but Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix were almost non-factors. South Carolina outscored the Tide in the paint, 34-22, and fought bigger Bama to a 30-30 standoff in rebounding.

It was so bad a night that even Ron Steele missed a free throw. After having made 33 in a row, Steele missed the front end of a one-and-one with six minutes to go and the Tide trailing by 10 points. Steele got a new streak started making six straight down the stretch.

Steele finished with a team-hgih 13 points as he made 8-9 free throws. He also had six assists. Davidson, who had foul problems, had a quiet 12 points, while Jean Felix also scored 12, all on three-pointers. Alonzo Gee had eight points, Hendrix seven points and seven rebounds, and Evan Brock four points–the last two points of the first half and the first two points of the second half.

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "You've got to give South Carolina credit. They are playing awfully well, a lot better than they were earlier. And Balkman had a phenomenal game. And we had one of those nights where we weren't very good on offense. We never got in a rhythm. And you have to give them credit for that."

He said that Alabama had turnovers and missed shots and too often didn't get back on defense at key times.

"There was a point where it could have gotten worse, but our guys kept fighting," Gottfried said.

The coach added, "The bottom line is they played well and we didn't play well and we end up with an 11-point loss."

Gottfried said, "We've got to put it behind us. That was a quick turn-around for us with a road game on Saturday and a road game on Tuesday while South Carolina had home games Saturday and Tuesday. We didn't handle it very well. Now we've got to get ready for one of the top five teams in the nation in Tennessee."

He said Tennessee is a great challenge and that one thing Bama will need is a little rest.

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