Alabama Suffers Costly Loss

An underachieving Alabama basketball team likely shortened its disappointing season Saturday when the Crimson Tide was defeated at home by Auburn. It was the Tigers first sweep of Alabama since 1999, and the first time Auburn had ever swept an Alabama team when Bama was ranked at the time of both games.

Alabama fell behind with 8:23 to play in the first half and never regained the lead, trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half. Auburn cruised to a 77-86 win. The Tigers had routed Alabama by 81-57 in Auburn a month ago.

When Quan Prowell swished an unguarded three-pointer to give Auburn a 68-53 lead with 7:44 to play, it appeared the Tigers might pour on another of the 20-point losses that have occurred for the Tide this year. But Auburn is well-coached, and Jeff Lebo had his team slow the tempo, spending clock and assuring victory over Alabama.

Some experts had expected this Alabama team to be a team that could challenge for the national championship. Having play without pre-season All-America guard Ron Steele (or, at best, with a diminished Steele owing to his numerous injuries) will keep Bama far from that goal. Indeed, most of those same experts will now consider the Crimson Tide to be a team not headed for the 65-team NCAA Tournament, barring an unlikely run to the championship game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament that begins March 8 in Atlanta.

Bama's second consecutive loss and fourth in the last five games dropped Alabama to 19-9 overall and 6-8 in SEC play. Auburn ended a four-game losing streak with the romp over Alabama in Coleman Coliseum, which gives the Tigers the same 6-8 SEC record as the Crimson Tide. Auburn is 16-13 overall.

Not for the first time this year, Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried was able to put his finger on lack of defense being the main problem with Crimson Tide performance. Auburn had its choice of easy under-the-basket goals or unguarded three-pointers. Guards were able to push the ball up court against lackadaisical Alabama defense, and the Tigers took advantage of the openings.

"I thought the name of the game today was our inability to defend anybody, and that has been the case too many times this year," Gottfried said. "We had too many breakdowns, especially around the basket." He said the list of defensive failings was "endless."

Gottfried said, "We've got to get tougher. Mentally tougher. If we don't have Ron Steele, we've got to believe we can win the game. I don't think the team today thought it could. The team has to have confidence."

Steele, who had only two free throws in five minutes of play, said, "It's killing me knowing I could help my team if I was healthy."

Auburn built a nine-point lead in the first half, but the Tide was able to cut it down to only a four-point deficit, 38-34, at intermission. But Auburn was ready to go when the second half started and scored on three consecutive layups to push the lead out to 10 points.

Bama cut the Auburn lead to single digits in the final few minutes, but the Tide was forced to foul and the Tigers made their free throws down the stretch.

Although Alabama was much bigger than Auburn, the Tigers won the battle of the boards, 32-30, and also outscored Bama in the paint, 42-37.

Korvotney Barber, a 6-7 sophomore inside player for Auburn, was good on six of eight field goals and had 17 points and 10 rebounds. He averages 11 points and six rebounds per game and at the half had 12 points and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Alabama's 6-10 senior Jermareo Davidson had 13 points (on very good 6-8 shooting), but only four rebounds.

Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said, "We executed our game plan early, which gave us confidence. We had a nice start to the second half. We made our free throws when we had to. We won the battle of the boards. We're not big, but we battled. And we shot the ball well."

Auburn hit 29 of 54 field goals, 53.7 per cent, including 7-18 three-point shots, 38.9 per cent. Alabama was pretty good from the field with 27-59 for 45.8 per cent, but hit only 5-18 treys, 27.8 per cent.

Bama was led by Richard Hendrix with 17 points and 13 rebounds. But Davidson and Hendrix had only 17 shots against the undersized Tigers, while Bama tried 18 three-point shots (making only five). Barber said, "Those guys are big. I appreciate them taking a lot of outside shots."

Freshman Mikhal Torrance, again getting a lot of playing time (27 minutes) with Steele having to sit out, had 14 points with three assists and two steals against only two turnovers. Mykal Riley had 13 points, but hit only two of seven treys. Alonzo Gee had 12 points, but all of those points came in the final minutes when the issue had already been decided. Gee was 3-10 from the field.

Prowell came off the bench to hit 7-8 field goals, including 3-4 three-points, and have 17 points for the Tigers. Frank Tolbert had 12 and Josh Dillard 10.

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