The Crimson Tide basketball team rode uncharacteristically hot shooting to a big lead over the #12 Kentucky Wildcats, and then had to overcome a bundle of turnovers--some forced, but many not--to hang on in the final seconds for a massive 68-66 win in Coleman Coliseum.
The win moves Bama to 3-1 in SEC play, tied atop the league standings 1/4 of the way through conference action. As Coach Grant said afterward, "It's probably an understatement to say this is a great win for our team."
A win like this is exactly what this program and its fans needed: an emotional win over an elite program that shows real progress in "the process". We aren't where we want to be, and, sadly, even despite a win like this and a great start to SEC play, we likely won't get there this year either. Still, this team has started to really buy in to Grant's system and it's really beginning to show. Hopefully the win last night will spark this team and this jilted fanbase to build momentum for the rest of this season and into the offseason.
I was fortunate enough to get to attend the game, and Coleman was really electric throughout. Reportedly over 4,400 students were on hand--well beyond capacity--and I personally saw a few students walking away from the Coliseum before the game saying the line was too long and they couldn't get in. Having that kind of student support in the arena is great for the program, and it's the students in the building each night who really provide the home court advantage from a fan standpoint, so the more of them we can pack in for each home game the better.
From a basketball standpoint, we did two things we haven't done a lot lately that affected this game in a big way. The first was hitting 3-pointers. We went 7-for-14, and considering we average hitting around 4 per game at a 31% clip, that means we hit about 3 treys that normally we would have missed. The two that Davis and Mitchell each hit with a hand in the face as the shot clock expired certainly come to mind here, as those are the kinds of shots we just haven't hit all season. Our ability to make those perimeter shots are what allowed us to build a lead in the first half and then to extend it early in the second half.
The other thing we did that was a bit out of character was make careless turnovers. Sure, Kentucky is a great defensive team, and their pressure should be credited with probably the majority of our turnovers, but still, we made at least a half-dozen unforced turnovers throughout the game that allowed Kentucky to claw back from a 20-point hole to having a chance to win the game down a point at the end. We are very, very lucky that those turnovers didn't cost us the game.
With the shooting and the many turnovers somewhat canceling each other out, this win, like pretty much every other SEC win thus far, was all about the defense. You've heard me say several times--backed up by statistics--that we have one of the nation's best defenses. Last night we held Kentucky, one of the nation's top offenses, to their lowest point total of the season. Only one other team, #8 UConn, has held them under 70. As long as we play great defense, we'll have a chance to win against most teams, and if we play great defense and get some shots to fall like we did last night, we have a chance to beat even some of the country's elite teams.
Individually, we got exactly what we needed out of each player. No one player did anything they weren't expected to do, aside from maybe Ben Eblen's extended minutes and late-game heroics, but then again every player stepped up and played their role nicely. From JaMychal Green's double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds), to Trevor Releford's tireless work as floor general, to Senario Hillman's spark off the bench, to Andrew Steele's clutch plays when we needed a lift, to Charvez Davis's 3 big-time treys, to Chris Hines's 8 rebounds, to Tony Mitchell just doing what Tony Mitchell does (15 points and 7 rebounds plus hitting a couple of 3's along the way), everyone came and did what they needed to do to help us win. Not to be cliche, but it was a great all-around team effort.
The Process continues this Saturday down on the Plains.