Tide Basketball Has Tough Assignment

The Southeastern Conference basketball season is barely more than a week old, and already Alabama is mired in a slump. Moreover, the Crimson Tide is facing a difficult week, hosting two teams that are playing excellent basketball.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said he thinks his Crimson Tide team "took a step back" in a Saturday loss to Arkansas. Bama had opened the season in impressive fashion with a 17-point road win over LSU, but has since dropped a home game to Vanderbilt by one point and was the 71-59 victim of the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. It was the first time this year Alabama had lost back-to-back games.

Now Alabama must prepare for a Tuesday game against one of the hottest teams in the nation. Tennessee looked like a team that might be in trouble when a handful of players were suspended, but the Vols of Coach Bruce Pearl went on the road and upset number one ranked Kansas. Now UT is 14-2 overall and 2-0 in SEC play and ranked in the nation's top ten. Alabama and Tennessee will tip off in Coleman Coliseum at 6 p.m. CST Tuesday with ESPN televising the game.

Alabama has fallen to 11-6 overall and 1-2 in SEC games. In addition to hosting Tennessee on Tuesday, the Tide will play Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Grant said Alabama "didn't play with the purpose and the focus we have in other games. I think we took a step back in that game. Now, how we respond to that, whether we hang our heads and pout or understand that we have a very challenging road ahead of us with Tennessee coming in here – this is a very unforgiving league. If you're not ready to play night in and night out you can get embarrassed, not just lose games. I think our guys understand that. I think as a team you want to be resilient, but we'll find out how resilient we are. We've got to come prepared to play and we've got to be prepared for exactly what we're facing and that's one of the best teams in the country."

Grant said he has been impressed with Tennessee all season, and particularly since the Vols responded so well in the past four games. "Anytime as a team, as a family, when adversity hits you, you're always interested to see how your guys respond," Grant said. "You have to be really impressed with the job that their coaching staff has done and their players have done. They're a really impressive team. We'll have to play extremely well in the game and we're certainly looking forward to the challenge here on Tuesday."

One area where Grant hopes his team can improve is "getting to the free throw line." In three SEC games, Bama opponents have had more than twice as many free throw opportunities, 71-35. The 37-17 advantage Vanderbilt had in Tuscaloosa last week was particularly harmful.

Grant also addressed the issue of scoring runs, and the corresponding scoring droughts Bama has suffered in games this year. He said, "Every game is going to bring different runs. For us, that has been the course of the last couple of games where we've had lapses where we haven't been able to score, and for that matter we've struggled with that throughout the year. I think for us it's a matter of developing a level of consistency in terms of what our guys are looking for in the course of those games. We're also not getting to the free throw line. Obviously there is no substitute for putting the ball in the hole. I do feel like from an offensive standpoint we're getting some decent looks, we're getting opportunities, but we've got to get a little smarter in terms of how we attack what we're doing and understanding how we can help ourselves break some of those droughts that we've been going on, especially late game."

He said, "I think in different times in the game our execution has been good, but there are also times, specifically down the stretch, when the defensive intensity has increased and we've settled. We haven't done the things that we need to do. You've got to have balance. We talk about balance in terms of working inside-to-out offensively, but you've also got to be able to get yourself to the free throw line, find a way to get some easy baskets, find a way to break some droughts and not have to necessarily rely on jump shooting or perfect execution every time down the floor."

Alabama is expected to strart Mikhail Torrance (6-5 senior, 15.9 points, 5.2 assists per game) at point guard, Anthony Brock (5-9 senior, 6.1 ppg) at wing guard, Senario Hillman (6-1 junior, 8.5 ppg) at small forward, JaMychal Green (6-9 sophomore, 14.9 ppg, 7.1 rebounds per game) at strong foward, and Justin Knox (6-9 junior, 6.2 ppg) at high post. Tony Mitchell, 6-6 freshman forward, has been top man off the bench.He's averaging 6.6 points per game.

Wayne Chism, a 6-9 senior center averaging 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds, leads the Vols. Scotty Hopson, a 6-7 sophomore guard, is Tennessee's top scorer at 13.3 points per game.

Grant said Chism had "really upped" his game in recent weeks. "You look at this ability to stretch the defense from the perimeter and then he's got great size and physicality inside as well, so it will be a great challenge for our front court to be able to match his intensity and effort. I think he's a guy at the pivot position that also makes the game easier for other guys on the floor, and that's unique. You usually see it working from the outside in. He's a guy that can affect from the inside out."

In Alabama's loss to Arkansas, the Tide was trailing by a single point when Senario Hillman was ejected from the game for a flagrant foul. From there, the Razorbacks went on a killing run to close out the game. Monday, Grant said the officials made the correct decision. "I think Senario is regretful for what he did in the heat of the moment," Grant said. I think his emotions got the best of him, but I think from my experience with him, it was an out-of-character thing for him. Certainly he understands the ramifications of that, not only for him, but for our team. I think he's very regretful and certainly apologetic for letting his emotions get the best of him."

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