Point guard assuming a greater load on offense

Last season as a true freshman Mo Williams stepped immediately into the starting lineup and solidified the critical point guard position, running the Tide offense and distributing the ball to his teammates. <br><br>Most of the year Williams preferred to let other Tide players handle the scoring, but that dynamic could be changing.

In Saturday's exhibition win over EA Sports, Williams blistered the Coliseum nets for 34 points. "The guys were out there setting good picks for me," was how Williams explained it. "Other guys were hitting big shots. That put a lot of pressure on their guards, trying to held down low. My teammates opened it up for me."

Williams drives versus Florida Atlantic. In that first-round NCAA victory, the Bama point guard scored 33 points, was 12-of-13 at the free throw line and shot a perfect 3-of-3 from three-point range. (GettyImages)

Last season Williams was comfortable deferring to his teammates when it came to scoring. And with All-SEC players Rod Grizzard and Erwin Dudley in the lineup, that turned out to be a pretty good strategy. But Grizzard is gone now in pursuit of a pro career, and Friday night Williams and Dudley chipped in 34 and 24 points respectively.

Williams commented, "I got a couple of open shots early. I found my touch, and that was about it. When you've got good picks, you just go forward with it. I was getting a lot of good shots."

Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried talked about the offensive performance. "Mo has shot it like that almost every day in practice. Tonight I thought he scored well and played well."

A Parade All-American his senior year of high school, Williams was generally considered the top point guard prospect in the country when he signed with the Tide. But the Jackson, Mississippi native was more than just a ball handler. Williams averaged 27 points per game his senior season, and he won the three-point shooting competition at the McDonalds All-Star game.

Friday Williams shot .578 from the field, but 6-of-8 from behind the three-point arc caught everyone's attention. "He's a guy that I think can be special," Gottfried said, "a really special young guy."

Williams started all 35 of Alabama's games last season, averaging 10.4 points per outing. (GettyImages)

Named SEC Freshman of the Year and National Freshman of the Year, Williams obviously had a successful first season of college hoops. But neither he nor his coach were happy with his shooting. Gottfried made clear to Williams that .376 from the field and .262 from three-point territory were simply not good enough.

Williams recalls their post-season conversation. "Basically Coach just told me that I was better than my shooting percentage. He told me if I took ten shots, then I ought to make eight out of ten---instead of four out of ten."

Williams worked relentlessly on his shot over the summer, and so far his effort is paying off. "Mo's a long way ahead of where he was a year ago today," Gottfried said. "He played well last year in those exhibition games, but he's really improved a lot."

According to Williams, his off-season workouts were simple. "I just tried to take a lot of shots," he explained. "That was about it. I knew I could shoot the ball well. It was just a matter of gaining more confidence."

Versus EA Sports Williams was noticeably more aggressive on offense. Whether pulling up on a fast break to let his man go by before calmly draining a jumper, or dropping in a three-pointer from beyond the key when his defender backs off, this year Williams appears willing to look for his shot.

Williams looks to make the pass. Improving his assists-to-turnovers ratio is a key goal this season. (GettyImages)

And that's perfectly fine with Gottfried. "Mo has been shooting it so well that he's going to be more aggressive. The way he's been shooting the ball, that's good."

It was the first game---and an exhibition game at that---so obviously the Tide team is still working to find its personality. But out of 97 points scored by the Bama players, over half (58) came from the Dudley/Williams duo.

"Mo was shooting the ball well; he and Erwin had key baskets and key rebounds," Gottfried said. "It really doesn't make a difference where the points come from. I think Erwin and Mo are going to both be guys that are going to score a lot for us. But I do think we have a lot of other guys that can score for us."

In addition to his 34 points, Williams contributed eight rebounds and three assists toward his team's victory. But after the game in talking with his coach, the sophomore star pointed to his eight turnovers as a sore spot that needed improving. "The first thing he said was about the turnovers," Gottfried recalled. "After looking at the box score, he noticed those eight turnovers. That's the kind of guy he is."

NOTE: The Tide's final exhibition game is this Friday (November 7) versus Athletes in Action. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 pm at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.

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