Tide Can Feel Good About This One

Alabama needed a basketball win. Mission accomplished. Some felt the Crimson Tide needed a blowout victory, or, at the least, a convincing decision. Check. After four consecutive losses to open Southeastern Conference play, Bama had fun.

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "It's only one game, but I feel happy for our guys. I wanted our players to experience something positive."

The one game Saturday afternoon was a 97-77 romp over Auburn. The Tigers are not a good basketball team, in part because of injuries, but hard-playing Auburn had run off three straight wins and had a 2-2 record in SEC play going into Saturday's game at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama, meanwhile, had been playing terribly, and Gottfried has been under fire from Tide fans.

For a day, at least, Gottfried and Alabama can enjoy themselves. After being swept by Auburn last year, the Crimson Tide returned to domination of the cross-state rival. Alabama now leads the all-time series by 84-52.

Gottfried was definitely into the game. From the early moments he argued vehemently against officials' calls. One call exasperated him to thepoint that he stripped off his jacket. A few minutes later a call so infuriated him his assistants reacted as though they believed the head coach was about to charge the court as they wrestled Gottfried back to the bench.

There were some obvious reasons for Alabama's success Saturday.

One, Alabama shot the ball much better than the Tide has been shooting. Bama hit 36 of 67 field goal attempts, 53.7 per cent, and 12-25 three-point shots, 48 per cent. "They shot us out of what we wanted to do," said Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo. "They played better than they have played in a while."

Gottfried said, "We shot the ball pretty well from the perimeter, and that changes things."

Alabama's defense, particularly a 1-2-2 match-up zone, was very effective. Bama forced 15 Auburn turnovers and got 24 points off those turnovers. The Tigers had been shooting very well from three-point range and Alabama had been terrible against three-pointers, but on Saturday the Tigers managed only 6-22 on treys, 27.3 per cent. Gottfried said that in Bama's open week (not having a mid-week game) prior to Saturday, "We were able to put some things in and the guys executed it well. We got our hands in the passing lanes and extended our defense more."

Although he got in foul trouble and played only 23 minutes, Richard Hendrix was a man too tough for the Tigers to handle. Hendrix hit eight of 11 field goal attempts and had 20 points and eight rebounds. "If he had been able to play 40 minutes, I guess he would have scored 40 points," Lebo said.

Alabama had only four turnovers in the game, and two of those game in the final minute and a half of the game. Auburn had only three points off Tide miscues. Lebo pointed out that Alabama was getting "live ball" turnovers, and was able to convert the opportunities into transition points. (A live ball turnover is in contrast to a turnover in which the clock is stopped and the ball taken out of bounds by the opponent against a defense that has time to set up.) Alabama was getting "lay-ups and open three-pointers," Lebo said.

It's not often that Alabama gets more bench points than the opponent, but on Saturday Gottfried started a line-up that had Brandon Hollinger at point guard instead of Rico Pitckett. It seems to help both of them. Hollinger hit six-of-nine three pointers and had 18 points. But Pickett came off the bench and scored 17 points on seven-of-10 field goal shooting. Both guards had five assists, Hollinger one turnover, Pickett no turnovers.

The Tide had five men in double figures. In addition to Hendrix, Hollinger and Pickett, Alonzo Gee had 17 points and Mykal Riley 16 points.

Alabama had only a 36-34 advantage in rebounding, but the Tide got balanced board work. In addition to Hendrix pulling down eight rebounds, Demetrius Jemison, Riley and Gee had seven each.

The game turned when Alabama went to its zone defense with lthe scored tied at 22-22 and 9:01 to play in the first half. Bama went on an incredible five-minute, 17-0 run. Four minutes before intermission the Tide had a 39-22 lead.

Auburn got a three-point shot from Quantez Robertson just before halftime, but Alabama had a 48-35 lead at the break.

The game was back-and-forth in the early going. Auburn never had greater than a three-point lead and had its last lead at 20-19.

The Tigers never got closer than the 13-point halftime margin in the second half. Alabama built its lead to 30 points at 81-51 with 9:48 to play.

There was one area of continued poor play for the Tide Saturday. Gottfried said, "We scored 97 points in spite of hitting only 12 of 25 foul shots."

For Auburn, Quan Prowell had 22 points, Rasheem Barrett 20, and Robertson 10. Tigers star Frank Tolbert "didn't have a good game," Lebo said as Tolbert fouled out having scored only seven points.

Alabama continues its homestand with the level of competition going up quite a bit on Tuesday. The Tide will host Tennessee, considered the SEC's best team and perhaps a contender for the national championship. The Tide and Vols will tip off at 8 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.

Alabama's Saturday win made Bama 1-4 in SEC play and 12-8 overall. Auburn fell to 12-6 overall and 2-3 in league games.

Tennessee was 16-2 overall and 3-1 in SEC games going into a home contest against Georgia Saturday night. The Vols' only SEC loss came at Kentucky in a mid-week game.

"Tennessee is terrific," Gottfried said. "We'll have to play exceptional to have a chance."

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