Alabama was looking for an identity this season. The Tide came to New York and discovered it may just be a late-game, big-shot squad. Trevor Lacey hit a 3-pointer to beat South Dakota State in the opener in Tuscaloosa. Then, when Lacey got doubled Thursday night against Oregon State, he found Rodney Cooper on the far side, who buried a 3-pointer to beat the Beavers. The SEC is hardly stacked after Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. A top five spot is wide open. Alabama has a shot to stick. "We like our odds in that situation,'' said Lacey. "We showed signs of immaturity and getting complacent.'' Alabama forced 20 Oregon State turnovers. But the Tide can only go so far with their defense. Making big shots can be a difference maker. "We knew we didn't get a lot of hype in the preseason,'' said Lacey. "But we're showing that Alabama can be a contender in the SEC.''
"He’s a good kid and I think he understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it," Grant said. "He understands the bottom line is that he’s going to be out there and have an opportunity to make plays. If you look the games we’ve played, he’s out there. I think too much is made sometimes of whether or not a kid’s starting or not." Grant’s thinking is that early in the season, he needs to start developing his younger and more inexperienced players. He needs to build a rotation and develop a bench. He needs to get the guys that are going to be counted on in March into games early and allow them to get a sense of what it means to play basketball at this level. "For us to be where we want to be, we have to build confidence in our young guys. We have an extremely young team," Grant said
Alabama led 52-37 with 12:31 to play on a three-pointer by Trevor Lacey, who led the Crimson Tide with 20 points. The Beavers (2-1) stopped turning the ball over and took advantage of a shooting slump by Alabama to tie the score at 62 when Devon Collier made two free throws with 43 seconds to play. After Cooper's shot, Oregon State turned the ball over with 3.6 seconds left. Cooper missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3.1 seconds to go, but Oregon State's final shot by Roberto Nelson at the buzzer was challenged and off the mark. Collier scored 21 points for Oregon State while Angus Brandt had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Eric Moreland added six points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
It was a game that should have never needed a clutch 3-point shot, but Alabama got one anyway. Rodney Cooper hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds to play, lifting the Crimson Tide, which had squandered a 15-point lead in the final 10 minutes, to a 65-62 win over Oregon State in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. "We made enough plays in the last 12 seconds to win, but it seemed like it took a half-hour," Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. "It's the mark of a young team," Grant said. "We were saying 'Run out clock" rather than going out and finishing the game."
"I am excited to get the win and get the chance to play for a championship (Friday)," head coach Anthony Grant said. "I have to give Oregon State credit; we were able to get them down in the second half, they did a good job at fighting and making plays. I thought our guys did a good job at making the plays we had to make down the stretch, coming up with loose balls, and (Rodney) Cooper being able to knock down an open shot to give us the win. I am proud of our guys the way they continued to stay with it and fight. "
"This was an opportunity lost," said Oregon State coach Craig Robinson. "This might be a lesson for us when we look back at the end of the season." Alabama will meet Villanova in tonight’s championship game, while Oregon State takes on Purdue. Trevor Releford had 12 of his 14 points in the first half for Alabama, which finished seven of 21 from 3-point range after going two of 10 in the first half. Cooper said his team wanted to make an effort to straighten out its 3-point woes from the first half. "They gave a lot of help on those shots," Cooper said. "Coach said to just be tough in taking that shot."
But if you take the cheapest ticket for Saturday’s game ($55) and multiply that times about 90,000 non-student tickets, that’s nearly $5 million just in ticket sales. That doesn’t count higher-priced seats, donations to be included in priority ticket programs, concessions, parking and souvenir sales. It’s a good thing for opponents such as Western Carolina, too. The school will receive $475,000 in return for playing at Alabama and not requesting the Tide visit the Catamounts’ home stadium. Western Kentucky received $650,000 to come to Tuscaloosa earlier this year, and Florida Atlantic received $1 million. "At our level, where our program is right now, it’s something you have to do," Western Carolina coach Mark Speir said. "You always like to play one. It’s good for recruiting to be able to say that you’re going to play the University of Alabama. A lot of young players, they like the thought of playing those games."
"This time, after experiencing that last year, we knew what we had to do," Williams said after Wednesday's practice. "It's not such a big surprise. I mean, we lost, but it's not a bigger surprise for the older guys because we have lost some games in our past. "We knew how to get our team to bounce back real fast."
"You have to execute better," Alabama senior inside linebacker Nico Johnson said. "It’s that simple. We didn’t execute at all, starting in the LSU game. We haven’t been getting off the field at all. … "We’ll have good opportunities like third and more than 12 and we’ll have a bust here and there and it costs us." Johnson was asked if the solution would be found in the film room or on the practice field. "Everyone has to be accountable to his job and not try to do too much," he said. "Do your job, and don’t worry about anyone else’s job, and hold themselves accountable, and we’ll be OK."
After two straight games in which it hasn’t forced a fumble or intercepted the pass, the Alabama defense has an opportunity to recapture its mojo against a Catamount offense that’s turned it over 15 times this season -- against FCS opponents. A few fundamentally sound, open-field tackles from a defense that has uncharacteristically struggled to do just that could go a long way toward wrapping up the runners from Auburn and Georgia (if it beats the Tigers) at the point of contact over the next couple of weeks. Fans should leave Bryant-Denny Stadium excited about the future after watching the likes of Landon Collins, Dillon Lee, Reggie Ragland and Cyrus Jones see significant playing time somewhere other than special teams. They shouldn’t have to depart with anxiety caused by the first-team offense’s inability to convert third downs. This isn’t the challenge Alabama faced in a raucous Death Valley or against Johnny Football. As relative as it may be, it’s still a challenge the Crimson Tide should embrace -- no matter how many are watching.
"Football as you knew it, football as I knew it, football as I grew up learning it, playing it ... it's not the same anymore. It's gone, it's different. There's eight times in the game where they snap the ball and there's eight seconds on the shot clock and we're not lined up on defense. Everybody's in no-huddle. You've got to play different, you've got to coach different, you can't do as many things on defense, you can't have sub groups. "These are all the things we've been really, really good at -- using a lot of players in a lot of different roles. This year? Can't do it. Even if you put him in on third down as a substitute, you can't take them out if they make a first down. You're stuck, so you just can't do it. "I do think that even the style of play, more space players, more speed, more athletic rushers -- all those things are really important. As the game changes, you've got to sort of change the kind of players you kind of need to win in your league. You've got to play who you've got to play. We've got to play those guys who we played last week and that's how they're going to play all the time. We've got to get players that fit that role better for us."
"Those guys do a really good job, they've really improved. We've coached those guys every day to try and get those guys better every day," said UA coach Nick Saban. "They don't get the opportunities and ... get preparation for the game, but a lot of those guys work against the offensive players and we're trying to coach those guys all the time to get better."
If not for knee surgery that Dalvin Tomlinson needed last spring after suffering an injury in a soccer match, the freshman defensive tackle might have played as an Alabama freshman this season. Who knows how much? Tomlinson has recovered from the injury now, but it's probably too late to consider using a year of eligibility, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. "Just watching him day-to-day, he has really good quickness," Saban said. "If he wasn’t hurt, he’s probably a guy who can help us, because he’s one of those quick-twitch guys that -- especially when you play a game like last week, when you’re playing against the spread and you need guys who can run and chase the quarterback -- I think he would do a good job in a role like that.