TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a trying week for the University of Alabama, but on Saturday things got a little brighter. In front of 12,988 fans at Coleman Coliseum, the Crimson Tide rebounded from back-to-back losses to beat rival Tennessee, 62-50.
After the game, coach Anthony Grant was noticeably pleased, eager to praise his team's tenacity on the court.
"I thought we played with a lot of fight, with a lot of hunger," Grant said. "... I think our guys are focused on trying to get wins and be the best they can be.
Alabama (17-9, 6-6) got significant contributions from the bench and negated Tennessee’s playmakers with stingy defense and a host of blocked shots. The Vols (14-13, 6-6) ended the night shooting 34 percent from the floor.
Playing with effort
Maybe it was the culmination of a week of struggling, or maybe the Tide was just sick of losing. Whatever it was, Alabama came out against Tennessee a different team. Eight players logged at least 9 minutes and from top to bottom, they made their time count. Carl Engstrom, forced into action with the suspensions of forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, protected the basket on both ends of the court. Moussa Gueye may not have scored many baskets in his 15-plus minutes of play, but his impact was felt. The sophomore center had 6 blocks and pulled down 2 rebounds. Grant said he was impressed with the effort of his two 7-footers, adding that they "took a step forward today."
Even the guards got in on the physical play, scrapping their way to 27 rebounds and snatching away 15 steals.
"I was really proud of the effort." Grant said. "They had great awareness tonight. They were alert and talking with each other. They had great communication today, great togetherness."
Freshman guard Trevor Lacey looked like he finally broke off the leash on Saturday afternoon, freewheeling his way on offense to a team-high 18 points. It was the most points he’s scored since Jan. 7 against Georgia. In the last 10 games he had averaged just 5.2 points per game. Against Tennessee, Lacey was a new man, attacking the basket and utilizing the athleticism and strength that made him a premier recruit coming out of high school in Huntsville, Ala. He forced the issue, getting into the paint and drawing fouls. His 12 free throw attempts tied for the most by an Alabama player all season. The 6-foot-3, 200 pounder chipped in with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals.
"He was aggressive. I told him after the game that that's what we need out of him," Grant said. "When you're a young guy sometimes you try and figure out where you fit and what's my role, what do I do? Sometimes you try to rely on one thing. I thought tonight he was aggressive whether it was attacking the rim or his jump shot or whatever it was. He was aggressive and wasn't worried about making a mistake or the impact of missing a shot. He was able to move on to the next play.
"He's got a very high baseball IQ and a very high skill level. He has the ability to make plays for himself and his teammates when he's aggressive like he was tonight. He was able to get in the lane and make some passes."
Junior guard Andrew Steele said on Friday that the Tide would have to push the ball on offense, negating Tennessee’s frontcourt by playing transition basketball. While UA did attack the rim better than in games past, the Tide could not get out in transition, scoring just 4 points on the fast break. Still, Alabama dominated the paint, out-scoring the Vols 22 to 18 under the basket and winning the rebound battle by six. ... Carl Engstrom had a career night against the Vols, poring in 7 points on 3 of 4 shooting. He played good defense as well, hauling in 6 rebounds. ... Nick Jacobs, who started the last six games, did not play against Tennessee. He had what Grant said was a mouth infection following a root canal surgery earlier in the week. ... Alabama will travel to Arkansas on Thursday for a 6 p.m. CT tip.