"It's always good to win, our guys certainly needed it," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. "They came in with great poise and figured out, from a defensive standpoint, how to make us stay down a little bit. We, I thought, had success in the first half attacking and being aggressive. Their zone really slowed us down, slowed the tempo of the game down. I'm proud of our guys for finding a way, when Arkansas took the lead during the second half; our guys never lost their poise, stayed with it and found a way to come out with the win. It was good to see our guys get stops at the end of the game, come up with some big rebounds and make some free throws to close it out."
On how his players responded to the challenges he gave them: “I think across the board, we’ve got a group of guys that really want to win. It comes down to just figuring out what gets us beat, what we need to do as a team, the commitment we need to make to each other, the commitment that we’ve got to have on a daily basis to do the things that we need to win. I think for our team, this is still a work in progress, in terms of I think we can get better. I think there’s still room for growth on this team. We’ve just got to continue to understand the common goal that we all have, which is to win and to continue to have those opportunities.”
For the first time since a Dec. 17 loss to Kansas State - 10 games, or half a season ago - senior forward JaMychal Green, junior forward Tony Mitchell and sophomore point guard Trevor Releford each scored in double figures. Releford led the way with 18 points. Green came off the bench to add 14, and Mitchell and reserve junior guard Andrew Steele each added 11 points. That's 54 points from four veterans. Four freshmen combined for 16 points. In the last six minutes, Green scored six points and Releford, Mitchell and Steele each had four. "You expect the people that have been in a tough situation to kind of step up," Steele said. Grant was upset after his team was upset Wednesday at South Carolina, falling 56-54 to a team that had been winless in the SEC. What was he thinking in sitting Green and starting freshman Nick Jacobs instead? "Just a personal decision," Grant said. "I thought it was the best thing for our team at that stage."
Alabama quite likely wouldn't have beaten Arkansas without Steele. He played 29 minutes - more than anyone on the team except Trevor Releford. He was, as Grant said, "all over the stats sheet." He scored 11 points (a career high) and had six assists (also a career high), thus having a direct hand in 23 Alabama points. He grabbed six rebounds. He was a safety valve who handled the ball well against Razorback pressure. He did it all even though he has, in the past month, had to deal with the postconcussion syndrome, a broken toe that caused him to miss practice time and a bout of the flu. "With his ability, his toughness and his ability to focus on whatever he can do to help the team win, he's just an emotional leader," Grant said. "He's a guy that provides stability on the court. I think his heart was really on display today. I'm really proud of the effort that he gave us. I thought he affected the game in so many ways today. It was good to see that." There is enough talent on this team to overcome the four-game skid of mid-January and get UA back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. But it's going to take more than talent. It's also going to take more efforts like the one Steele gave against Arkansas. "The message from the coaches is that everyone needs to do what it takes to get a win," Steele said. "So that's what I tried to do."
The Razorbacks went on a 17-8 run to take a 47-45 lead on a score by Devonta Abron with 13:41 remaining, after Abron had tied the game on a dunk. Trailing 56-54 with 6:59 left to play, Alabama outscored Arkansas 18-10 down the stretch to secure the win. Alabama connected on 25-of-50 shots from the field, marking the seventh time this season the Crimson Tide has shot 50 percent or better in a game. Alabama scored 40 of its 72 points in the paint, while connecting on 20-of-25 free throws (80.0 percent) — the third most the Tide has registered from the foul line this season.
A not-horrible day got a better because Green overcame his early turnovers and technical to show signs that he got the message of his benching. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder wound up playing 27 minutes and beating his season averages. As for what it all means for the rest of the season, well, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket had Alabama as a No. 8 seed. That was Monday, and his next update will factor in the loss at South Carolina. Alabama’s margin for error hasn’t changed, and the best chance for a quality win comes Feb. 14 at home against RPI No. 26 Florida. The Tide can also gain a split with No. 33 Mississippi State. So, it was good to see Alabama seemingly get over “entitled basketball” for a day Saturday. The Tide still must to play much more enlightened basketball down the stretch.
This will be a solid resume win for Alabama. Arkansas came into the game in the bubble conversation, and was in the top-60s in RPI. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Hogs end up making the NCAA Tournament, and even if they don’t, they should be squarely in the bubble conversation when Selection Sunday rolls around. The one concern for Alabama in the immediate aftermath of this game was the apparent back injury suffered by freshman guard Trevor Lacey. He played only 14 minutes, and he was in obvious pain on the bench.
Courtney Upshaw might be the best defensive prospect in the draft. It's not a great class by all means, especially considering the quality of defensive lineman available in recent years. Even so, when I sat down to consider the top prospects this year, I couldn't help but rank Upshaw among this year's elite.
Strengths: Very productive in his senior season (18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks). Pure pass rusher. Has a bunch of moves, including a great bull rush. Uses his hands very well. Pretty explosive, even when he was hampered by an ankle sprain. Very strong and sheds blocks well. Can play both stand-up 3-4 OLB and as a 4-3 DE. Holds up well against the run at both spots. Doesn’t miss tackles often. Rarely misses an assignment. Comes up big in big games – including a great showing in the BCS title game against LSU that earned him defensive MVP honors. Tough enough to play through a sprained ankle in 2010.
When Smelley was asked about the differences and similarities between Washington Redskins and South team head coach Mike Shanahan and University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban he had this to say. "I would have to spend more than a week with coach (Mike) Shananhan to notice any differences but they are both similar in the fact that they both run high intensity practices and like to shuffle people around," he said. "They know what they to accomplish and what they want from you."
One person who was definitely there for the football was Phil Savage, who is now a scout for the Philadelphia Eagles in addition to being the color analyst for Alabama football. Savage attended his 41st Senior Bowl Saturday, which is especially impressive when you consider the Murphy High graduate is only 46. Savage is in a unique position to critique the four Alabama players in the game. He said they could expect their draft status to be elevated by "half a round to a round higher because they have the endorsement of Nick Saban."
Courtney Upshaw, DE/LB, Alabama: Upshaw showed good pass-rushing skills but did not work at linebacker, his likely position in the NFL. "To me, he's a 'tweener. I think he's a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's got the same body build as (Pittsburgh LB) James Harrison."
The former Alabama tight end has more than 16,500 followers on Twitter. He posts photos, interacts with fans and even lists his university e-mail address so people can get in touch with him. But that openness comes with a certain amount of caution. Asked whether he thinks twice before he posts online, Smelley said there was no question he does. "Absolutely you do," Smelley said. "You're under a microscope. You have to watch what you say." Smelley said the coaching staff doesn't have to spell out the rules for using social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. He said common sense is a good enough guideline. "You just don't give away team stuff that goes on in the locker room," Smelley said. "Team stuff stays in the building. You don't want to give out any information for a game or anything like that."
If CBSSports.com wants to be “blog forward,” then the organization needs to accept the accountability that comes with participating in such a fast-moving environment. Ironically, as blogs are striving to become more like professional news organizations, those organizations are striving to become more like blogs. What was CBSSports.com thinking when it hired several widely read bloggers from different sports and fansites? Did they think they’d be able to speed up news delivery and not increase the risk that in the zeal to get it first, someone might get a big one wrong? Meanwhile, “senior writers” like Dennis Dodd, Gregg Doyel and Brett McMurphy are free to make stuff up as they go along. Need a quote to provide background and texture to a hit piece on Les Miles? Make one up and stick it in there, crediting an anonymous source. Need to twist a fact or two to drive home a point or further an agenda? No problem—jump to a bogus conclusion without any factual basis and get it in there.