There was a basketball game and Alabama won Thursday night, but that wasn't the story. Seven-foot junior college transfer Moussa Gueye made his surprise Crimson Tide debut in the closing moments of a 72-55 win over Jacksonville. His appearance came four months after tearing his ACL and a day after head coach Anthony Grant said Gueye was "limited" but "progressing." Gueye, who entered after a timeout with 3:44 left, didn't score. He grabbed one rebound while playing somewhat tentatively on the left knee protected by a brace. The decision to play Gueye came after two very strong practice performances, Grant said. "I wouldn't have put him out there if I felt like there was any jeopardy," Grant said. "Our medical staff wouldn't have cleared him if we felt like there was any chance of him putting himself in harm's way."
Alabama did it with 3-pointers once again in the first half. It made six in the opening 20 minutes just as it did the last time out against Oklahoma State, but didn’t connect on any of its four attempts after halftime. Releford made 2-of-3 attempts from 3-point range after making his fourth of the season in the last game. "Last game I hit one and it gave me a little bit of confidence that I needed," Releford said.
Mitchell was delighted to see Gueye finally play. "He's going to bring a physicality to our team," Mitchell said. "He's a great low post. He has offensive ability, too. I can't wait for him to get out there with us more ... and break a sweat. He's progressing real fast. ... Hat's off to him for working real hard to get back."
No. 12, Trevor Releford, Guard.
On difference between the two halves: "Our coaches told us at halftime to play with more energy and to not let them outplay us. I think that we took it to heart. We came out different in the second half."
On a different game plan that is allowing them to score more points: "We are just listening to Coach (Anthony Grant). He is telling us to use our talent. It got us here, and not to do anything that we are not supposed to do. What we have been doing seems to be working."
"I was really pleased with how we came out in the second half defensively and really set the tone," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. "When you look at the numbers, they shot 25 percent in the second half, went one-for-seven from the three-point line and we only turned the ball over twice in the second half, giving ourselves an opportunity every time on the offensive end. Being disruptive on the defensive end like we were allowed us to build the lead."
For most of the first half, it was the scenario Alabama head coach Anthony Grant had warned against. The Jacksonville Dolphins came out with energy and stayed even with Alabama - until reality kicked in after halftime. UA (10-3) held the visiting Dolphins without a point for more than eight minutes to start the second half, pulling away for a 72-55 victory at Coleman Coliseum. Trevor Releford led Alabama with 18 points, making six of his nine shots from the floor. Tony Mitchell added 17 as UA played without leading scorer JaMychal Green (shoulder) for a second straight game. "In the second half, I thought our focus on defense picked up," Grant said. "That's obvious if you look at their shooting numbers in the half."
Louisiana State head football coach Les Miles does not get angry often, but he did when he noticed that some players put on extra pounds during a week off following the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Dec. 3 and warned his players about eating too much during their Christmas break. "He got mad after our last break because we had a lot of people out of shape and overweight," senior safety Brandon Taylor said. "He was getting on them hard. He was letting them know that this is the biggest game that you're going to play in so you want to be in the best shape."
Amid the euphoria of No. 1 LSU’s win over second-ranked Alabama earlier this season, offensive coordinator and line coach Greg Studrawa was concerned about the Tigers’ inability to run inside against the Crimson Tide. Studrawa and his linemen say they’re motivated to change that going into the BCS title game rematch in New Orleans on Jan. 9. "I don’t think we played well. It’s that simple," Studrawa said. "Give credit to Alabama’s defense. They’re a good defense, no doubt, but we’ve played good defenses before. "The great thing is, these guys know they can do better, and so do I. We’re going to play better."
LSU punter Brad Wing played a key role in the Tigers' 9-6 win over the University of Alabama in November, and the Australian-born specialist's impact isn't lost on the Crimson Tide. But unlike other positions, Wing's effectiveness isn't so easily countered. Running backs can be keyed on; defensive linemen can be double-teamed. But talented punters, short of a blocked punt, can't be so easily affected. "I think he, you could argue, may be the best punter in the country. He really changes field position," said UA coach Nick Saban. "Their net punt is (about) 43 yards or something, which means not only is he averaging 40-some yards but nobody is getting to return the ball. That's (a credit to) his kicks as well as his cover folks."
Running back Eddie Lacy continues to show improvement in his recovery from turf toe. The Crimson Tide's No. 2 running back is running through all drills during media viewing periods. He had been limited in prior weeks to give his foot the best opportunity to heal for games. After several weeks without a game, and a focus on conditioning and fundamentals, Lacy appears to be the beneficiary of some long needed rest.
The SEC has won five consecutive national championships, and every one of them was special in a way. Florida went from slim escapes to a bowl blowout in 2006. Undefeated-in-regulation 2007 LSU became the first two-loss national champion in decades. Florida's 2008 national title is a crowning achievement of the spread option movement. Alabama's 2009 title brought one of the sport's biggest signature programs to the mountain top for the first time in over 15 years. In 2010 Auburn rolled to a national title on the back of Cam Newton, arguably the conference's most talented and dominant player since Herschel Walker. None of those championships represent the pinnacle of the conference's power though. That honor will go to the 2011 national title.
"He's had a great career here," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He's a very emotional player. I think he's a great competitor, sometimes to the point of putting so much pressure on himself that ... you know, it works well in the long run, but sometimes he allows it to affect him at the moment. But he's really matured a lot and learned how to sort of play through that. And I think this has been his most productive year."
He was asked why he hasn't worn the ring. "I have no idea," Gibson said. "It's just guys that want to show it off for fun and all that kind of stuff, it's just something I want to keep to myself. I don't want anything to happen to it. I don't want it to come up missing. I just keep it to myself."
AJ McCarron is about to get some much welcomed support at Alabama. McCarron's younger brother, Corey McCarron, said Thursday he will transfer to Alabama in January and walk-on to the football team. Corey (6-0, 240 pounds) was a freshman tight end at South Alabama last season. He said the reason for the move is a desire to play football with his older brother. The two played together at St. Paul's, memories Corey said he cherishes. Corey finished his high school career at Spanish Fort. "I missed playing with AJ," Corey said. "That's something I always wanted to do. The two years I played with him I loved it. Deep down, I wanted to play with AJ. "You only live once. I want to play with him before my playing days are over."