Those games aren’t fun. Games you are “supposed” to win stress me out the most. Throw in the fact we entered that game with our leading scorer back in Knoxville and our second leading scorer returning to action after missing three straight days of practice and you could say I was as nervous as Jay Cutler should be the next time he steps on Soldier Field. Once we stopped throwing the ball to the other team after the first couple minutes our play calmed my nerves with the way they shared the ball, played great defense and dominated the boards. Once you get a good lead, games against scrappy pressing teams always turn ugly. The best part of the game is that each guy stepped their game up in the absence of Scotty without attempting things they are not capable of and that was enough to pull out a win and ultimately that’s all that matters.
Now, however, our focus solely turns to our showdown with fellow-SEC-division-leader Alabama, who is the only team other than Florida (this year) to have won the last time they played in Thompson-Boling Arena when they won on a half-court buzzer-beater to end the regular season two years ago. This Alabama team is much different than they were then. Anthony Grant has taken over the program and is doing a really good job at getting his kids to defend and control tempo. To help us be prepared for this big game despite a quick turnaround, our staff took all of Sunday to prepare for Alabama. Although it’s tough not having Coach Pearl on the road with us, with us gone, he got to spend all day Thursday preparing for Saturday’s game. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be ready.
A quick look at Alabama’s defensive stats and its easy to understand why they have won 9 of their last 10 and are leading the SEC West. Alabama is 1st in the country in points allowed per possession (.80), 2nd in FG% defense (36.3%), 2nd in 3pt FG% defense (29.8%) and 6th in points allowed per game (57). This is largely in part because they do a great job of mixing up defenses in the half court and the full court. For us to have any success on the offensive end, we must execute despite their ball pressure, traps and different defensive schemes and play such good defense ourselves that we can get a few easy baskets.
Offensively Alabama DOMINATES the paint. They have outscored every single one of their opponents this year in the paint. A large reason for that are their two top players JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Both of these guys are very good around the basket and attack the rim for an offensive rebound every time one of their teammates takes a shot. The key to their team however is the emergence of freshman point guard Trevor Releford. He has done an excellent job of controlling tempo and initiating Alabama’s offense but recently has really improved his scoring output. Defensively, we will really need to control our backboard and minimize their easy baskets in and around the paint.
Similar to Alabama, our team has been pretty good at winning the points in the paint battle each game this season. With this being one of Alabama’s strong points, this game will definitely come down to which team is tougher and who is the aggressor. Hopefully, now that the 4th college football season in the South is over, (spring ball, regular season, bowl games and signing day) our arena will be filled to capacity and even louder than normal Saturday at 5 p.m. Just like you did vs. Vandy Vol Nation, you guys can make a HUGE difference in the game. There are no easy games in the SEC this season and this one will be no exception. Be loud, be proud and we will see you Saturday as we compete for the lead in the SEC.