The Crimson Tide went on the road to Tuscon to take on perennially-top 10 Arizona on Saturday night. The Tide was game, but came out on the short end of a 88-82 game.
After trailing by as many as 11 in the first half, ‘Bama finished the period hot and took a 40-38 lead when Collin Sexton banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Sexton got called for his second foul with 13:22 left in the half, and went to the bench with the Tide down 12-10. Coach Avery Johnson trusted the star freshman enough to put him back in after a few minutes rest, and Sexton scored nine points, including the three-pointer, over the last six minutes of the stanza. Donta Hall continued his stellar play and had eight points and eight rebounds at the break.
Arizona outshot the Tide in the first half making 14-30 (46%) to 13-33 (38%) for ‘Bama. The Crimson Tide was able to have the lead by shooting 50%-4-8 from the three point line, and a uncharacteristic 8-10 (80%) from the free throw line.
Sexton came out firing in the second half and when he hit a three with 13 minutes remaining, he had 19 points and the Tide held a 58-53 lead. The Wildcats quickly hit two from long distance to take a 59-58 lead. Still, the Tide did not shoot well from the field in the second half, hitting only 11-29 (38%), with 4-12 (33%) from behind the arc. Free throw shooting kept them in the game, with a positive 16-18 performance in the half. Arizona blistered the nets to the tune of 15-26 for 58% after the intermission, including 4-8 from deep. The Cats were 16-23 (70%) from the free throw line. There were 48 total fouls called in the game.
‘Bama was able to tie the game at 76-76 with 3:18 left, but couldn't get closer than two the rest of the way. Some questionable calls down the stretch benefited the Wildcats.
At one point Sexton was kicked in the face on a rebound by DeAndre Ayton, and after a review the referees decided no-call was the correct decision. Arizona started out the season ranked as high as number two, but somehow lost three straight games over Thanksgiving in The Bahamas. Now, after blowing out the seventh-ranked Texas A&M Aggies, and clawing its way to a win over Alabama in back-to-back games, the ‘Cats should start moving back up.
Arizona shot 29-56 on the game for 52% including 8-16 from deep and 22-35 from the line for 63%. ‘Bama was only 24-62 (39%) from the field, but 10-24 (42%) from the three point line. Despite entering the game 322 in the NCAA at 63% on the season, the Tide was a sterling 24-28 for 86%. Sexton was 15-16 by himself. The huge ( two seven footers started) dominated the boards to the tune of 43-30. ‘Bama improved in turnovers with only eight, after having 24 in the Rhode Island game on Sunday. The Tide dished out 15 assists while the Cats had 17.
Sexton dazzled the 20-plus NBA scouts on hand with his 30-point game. Hall impressed them as well with another double-double (15 points and 12 rebounds. John Petty hit 4-of-10 three pointers, and tallied 13 points. Dazon Ingram had a solid game, collecting 10 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Daniel Giddens continued his good play off the bench and added eight points. Riley Norris knocked down a couple of three-point shots, but missed on three wide-open looks that were really needed. Braxton Key dressed out and went through warmups but did not see action.
Ayton, Arizona’s seven-foot freshman, looked every bit the part of a possible first pick in the draft with a 29-point, 18-rebound game. At times he was virtually unstoppable. Preseason All-American guard, Alonzo Trier, added 25 points. Trier missed last season after being suspended for PED use. The Wildcats are just now getting a couple of key players back, and will be one of the best teams the Tide will play all year.
The Tide badly needs Key back, and he should play in the next game. With him in the lineup, Norris can return to being a spark off the bench, and give the team a player that can do it all to add to Sexton, Hall, Ingram and Petty. This team will be so much more dangerous, athletic, and certainly a faster team.
Alabama showed a lot of fight in a very hostile environment, against a team that has now won 47 straight non conference games at home. Still, the Tide couldn't overcome a very good team and a very bad crew. If there is such a thing as a “good loss”, this one will qualify. This is what the Selection Committee wants to see: a competitive game on the road, against a Top-5 opponent with elite talent that will go deep in the NCAA Tournament, it checks all the boxes except the most important one -- getting the W.
The Tide now has several days off for finals before going to Huntsville on the 19th for a men’s/women’s double-header against Mercer. The Tide will then host a team similar to themselves in Birmingham, as they face the Texas Longhorns on December 22nd. The ‘Horns don’t have the number of quality wins that the Tide does, but Shaka Smart’s young athletic team has been game against No. 12 Gonzaga and No. 1 Duke. The Tide then open SEC play at home against Texas A&M on December 30th.
Roll Tide and Buckle Up
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Ed. Note: As this story went to print, Getty nor USA Today had archived images for this game.