With less than fifteen minutes to play in the game, the Alabama Crimson Tide looked up at the scoreboard to see themselves trailing the Tennessee Volunteers 48-33. Staring at a potential 1-6 start in SEC play dead in the eyes, Avery Johnson's group rallied behind Retin Obasohan and Shannon Hale to come from behind and save their postseason chances (of any kind) with a 30-to-9 run to close out the game. It certainly wasn't a pretty win, especially over a team that is going to have to make waves just to get themselves to the NIT, but this is a game that Alabama certainly wouldn't have won in the past few seasons. Avery has given this team some confidence, even when things aren't going well. This was a must-win for Alabama, and the Tide showed fantastic resilience on Tuesday night.
It's appropriate then, that Alabama will follow-up the must-win over Tennessee with a rematch of their first big win of 2016, a victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks (18-2, 5-2 SEC). Frank Martin's club will be looking to avenge their loss in Tuscaloosa a few weeks ago, which won't make this match-up against a recently-ranked opponent any easier. Alabama has struggled on the road in conference play, as the Tide is still looking for their first away victory of 2016. Can Avery lead the Tide to a win away from home?
The Last Meeting
Three Keys to Victory
The first meeting between the Tide and Gamecocks was arguably Alabama's best performance of the season, as the good guys blew out South Carolina 73-50. As you may remember, Alabama checked off each key on the above list with a resounding stroke of the pen. The Tide not only hung with South Carolina on the glass, they actually out-rebounded them 33-28. Riley Norris set Coleman Coliseum on fire with a career-high eight three pointers on eleven attempts, and the team finished 13/28 total on the night. The Gamecocks also had two more turnovers than the Tide.
It was a dominating performance from Alabama. Defensively, they held Sindarius Thornwell, Mindaugas Kacinas, and Laimonas Chatkevicius to a combined 6/21 from the floor, and the bench had no answers for the Gamecocks either. Michael Carrera was the lone bright spot for USC, knocking down 5/10 shots, including 2/5 from beyond the arc, grabbing ten total rebounds, and recording both a steal and a block. The undersized post player was huge for Martin's squad that night, and he will likely be a major factor in the game in Columbia on Saturday.
What to Watch For This Time
A repeat performance from Alabama would obviously give the team a pretty decent chance at bringing home their first road SEC win. All three keys from last game remain relevant. If Alabama can rebound the ball, knock down some threes with consistency, and win the turnover battle, they will likely get the victory. The Tide probably isn't going to get 8/11 shooting from the perimeter from one guy again, so it will need to be more of a collective effort. South Carolina's incredibly stingy two-point defense hasn't gone anywhere, as they are still 10th in the country in 2P% allowed, so those three-balls will come in handy once again.
One extra key to add to the list for this week's match-up is how well the Tide can contain Carrera. He does it all for South Carolina, as he's the perfect high-energy, scrappy kind of player for Martin's system. His ability to play out on the wing makes it tough for any of the Tide's true post players to defend him one-on-one, so Hale will be called upon to step up defensively in this game. Also, shooting better than 57.1% from the free throw line would prevent the Tide from having to rely so heavily on three point shots.
A player to watch out for will be the true freshman Donta Hall. Hall only played eleven minutes last game, but was able to collect three rebounds, as well as record both a block and steal. The 6'9 power forward also had a really good night on Tuesday against Tennessee, finishing with four points, six rebounds, three blocks, and two steals in only fourteen minutes. His offensive game needs serious polishing, but the guy has really been a beast in limited playing time. As Hall continues to develop his game, look for his playing time to greatly increase, as he is currently leading the SEC with a ridiculous 16.9% Blocking Rate (the percentage of opponent two point attempts blocked by the player while he is on the floor). That is an absurd amount of production protecting the rim. He also leads the team with an incredibly impressive 23.3% RB%, a full ten percentage points higher than second-best Jimmie Taylor. Hall needs to get more minutes.
Alabama has an opportunity to sweep a quality opponent in conference play, which would also get them to a respectable 3-5 record in SEC play. With games against two of the worst teams in the conference next week, this could be a golden opportunity for Alabama to jump back into the middle of the SEC fray. Beating the same team twice in one season is never easy, especially when it's against a team as good as South Carolina has been this year, but the Tide have shown once this season that it's certainly possible.
The game tips-off at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.