Arkansas came into Tuscaloosa as the hottest team in the SEC outside of Gainesville, Florida, having won 8 of their last 9 conference games to improve their record to 21-9, and put themselves in position to make the NCAA tournament. They ran into a buzzsaw led by mercurial senior guard Trevor Releford in his last game in Coleman Coliseum. Releford scored 24 points to - once again - lead the team and move into fifth place in all-time Crimson Tide scoring. Releford passed former All-American Jerry Harper and likely passes Buck Johnson next. Releford now has 1,862 points in his stellar career. The Kansas City native is the all time leader in steals for Alabama and is now number one all time in games played. Releford has now scored in double figures every game this season as well as 32 games in a row over two years, and 100 times in his career.
The Tide came out on fire offensively and defensively and held a commanding 39-16 half time lead. Coach Anthony Grant started senior walk-on Isiah Wilson as an reward for his hard, often overlooked, contribution to the program. Wilson had an early offensive rebound and put back for the Tide's first basket. At the half, Levi Randolph led the team with 11 points, Releford had 10, and Shannon Hale threw in nine. Defensively the Tide held Arkansas to 4-23 shooting, 2-12 from three point range. 'Bama was 15-27 at half, 3-10 from behind the arc, and dominated on the boards at 25-12, with Carl Engstrom grabbing seven boards in 11 minutes.
The second half brought more of the same, although the Razorbacks did pick up their scoring pace and shooting percentage. The Hog's never got closer then 19 points, however. 'Bama got key contributions up and down the roster with freshman Jimmie Taylor joining Releford, Hale and Randolph in double figures. Taylor finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Hale finished with 18 points and was a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. Randolph finished with 11 points and three boards. Rodney Cooper had seven rebounds and had four points. Engstrom finished with a team leading (tie) in rebounds with seven, in only 11 minutes of action. Taylor played 18 minutes, and the Tide went small for much of the game, but were still able to control the boards, and cause 15 turnovers, with eight steals. Releford led the steal parade with three.
Arkansas improved to 44% in the second half on 11-25 shooting, including 7-13 from the three point line. 'Bama stayed hot at 53.8%, (14-26, 3-6 from the three point line.) The Razorbacks were able to score 42 second half points, but the Tide put up 44 to post one of their better offensive games of the year. Releford left the game with about two minutes left to a rousing ovation from the crowd. Releford and Grant had a long, emotional hug as he thrilled the home crowd for the last time. After the game Releford said "I appreciate all the fans supporting me for the last four years, and I know I made the right decision coming to Alabama."
The Tide finished the regular season with a 13-18 recored, and 7-11 in the SEC, and finished 10th in the 14 team league. The team was 13-4 at home and an unfortunate 0-14 away from the friendly confines.
Despite the very disappointing record there are some positives to pull from the season, if you look hard enough:
- Releford was simply put, magnificent.
- Randolph shook off a terrible start to the season to finish strong, and hopefully show going forward what he is capable of.
- Obasohan was up and down, but his athleticism can not be denied. If he can gain a little basketball IQ he can become an adequate player.
- Cooper had very few games where he scored or shot well, but led the team in rebounding as an undersized power forward.
- Freshman Shannon Hale, started slow, but finished fast, and grew as a player throughout the year. Hale improved his free throw shooting and rebounding weekly during the season, and looks to be a star in the making.
- Taylor showed flashes of his defensive ability, particularly in shot blocking, and shot altering areas. He never will be a big scorer, but he could develop into an 8-10 point per game guy, with the potential for double digit rebounds per game.
Michael Kessens and Ricky Tarrant had good views from the bench this year as they sat out their transfers seasons. Add them to the returning players, plus incoming freshmen Justin Coleman, Riley Norris and Devin Mitchell and there is the makings of a good team. It would be ideal to grab a big inside player late from JuCo that is ready to play, but I feel pretty good about the group that we will have.
Nick Jacobs is a wild card. Who knows if he will be back or not, but if he is, and he gets his head right, that would be a bonus. And as much as some/many of you want, there is a very good chance Anthony Grant will be back next season. Say what you want about him, his team never quit on him this year, they were just outmanned, particularly in the middle.
Alabama next game is Thursday in Atlanta in the SEC tournament. The Tide will play seventh seeded LSU at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. The winner will play second seeded Kentucky on Friday.The game Thursday will be shown on SEC TV and ESPN3.
On a personal note I just want to say I have enjoyed covering the games this year, even if the results were less than satisfactory. Also would like to share what a great young man Trevor Releford is, not just a great basketball player. I am proud to have been his friend over the last few years, and I know he will do well where ever he ends up. He has a great personality and that smile! RTR!
Roll Tide Y'all Roger