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February 15, 2013

ALABAMA BASKETBALL: Tide riding stingy defense into SEC contention

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama has seemed like a driver hovering safely close to 55 on the highway but still moving just a tad faster than the rest of traffic.

If the Crimson Tide’s sometimes plodding offense isn’t in danger of drawing any speeding tickets, stingy defense has helped ’Bama continue winning enough to remain in contention for a Southeastern Conference title and nursing hopes of making the NCAA tournament.

Alabama (16-8, 8-3) has won eight of 10 games during a stretch when a 60-57 win over LSU counts as an offensive outburst going into Saturday’s game with South Carolina.

“Ugly win beats a pretty loss any day of the week to me,” Tide coach Anthony Grant said on Friday. “Bottom line is to get the win.”

Defense has bailed Alabama out plenty.

As a result, the Tide is tied with No. 25 Kentucky for second in the league behind No. 7 Florida — the only SEC team yielding fewer points than Alabama.

The Tide has held nine straight SEC teams to fewer than 60 points and ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, giving up 57.3 points a game. However, in SEC games, only Mississippi State and Georgia are scoring fewer points than Alabama’s 58.1 per game.

It has made for less-than-scintillating scores like a 49-37 loss to Auburn, 50-49 over Texas A&M and 52-45 over Georgia.

Alabama hasn’t shot 40 percent in the last four games. All that talk about offensive shortcomings get Grant a little defensive.

“The thing that we talk about is that as long as we defend well as we’re capable of, we’re going to have a chance to win every game,” Grant said. “I know a lot’s been made about some of the offensive troubles that we’ve had and really over the last five games we’re probably shooting a much lower percentage than we have all year.”

He notes that at one point Alabama was leading the SEC in 3-point shooting.

Now, the Tide is content to work most of the shot clock down before firing up a shot when there’s no transition opportunity.

It helps foster low scores — for both teams. Most of the time that has worked in Alabama’s favor, except against Auburn when the Tide scored just 14 second-half points. Grant just says the team has “moved on” when asked about that game.

Georgia made just 11 field goals over the final 32 minutes in Tuesday night’s game.

Grant points out that Alabama has won four of five games despite the shooting struggles.

“And a big reason for that is our guys have been committed to staying the course from a defensive standpoint,” he said. “It’s allowed us to have a chance, and that’s all you can ask for.

“I believe as a team you can call it an ugly win, you can say whatever want to say about 60 points. I want our guys focused on winning, and I want them playing with confidence.”

The 60-point mark has been significant for Alabama during Grant’s four seasons. The Tide is 55-13 when opponents don’t top that mark, 24-34 when they do.

It hasn’t happened since Alabama’s 68-65 win over Tennessee on Jan. 12.

Now, Alabama takes on a South Carolina team coming off a 64-46 loss to LSU for its fifth straight defeat.

The Gamecocks are coached by Grant’s longtime friend and high school teammate, Frank Martin.

This would seem a game that could end up an “ugly win” whoever emerges.  

That would be OK with Levi Randolph and Alabama if they come out on top.

“You can’t control what other people say,” said Randolph, a sophomore guard. “You have to try and go out there and get a win. We just try to go out there and do the things that coach asks us to do. I guess a win is a win.”

 

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