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January 24, 2012

Tide faces must-win game

TUSCALOOSA | University of Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant, appearing on the Southeastern Conference's coaches teleconference on Monday afternoon, was asked the typical sort of strategic question that might well precede a game like the Crimson Tide's matchup with a perimeter-oriented South Carolina team tonight (7 p.m. CT)

"What about Alabama's SEC-leading 3-point defense?" Grant was asked by one reporter.

"We've lost three games in a row," Grant said. "That's the only stat I care about."

That sums up tonight's game succinctly. The Crimson Tide, one of the teams picked as an SEC contender in the preseason, is now 2-3 in the league with a three-game losing streak, having dropped games against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Those are three of the better teams in the SEC, and even though UA is now 13-6, its RPI - currently at No. 24 nationally - has suffered no great harm. But the schedule gets less rigorous now. The Crimson Tide needs to start winning again, particularly against teams like South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 8-10, 0-4 in the SEC and are currently No. 194 in the RPI, so a loss to them would be a vicious blow to UA's NCAA hopes, even with the game being played in Columbia, S.C.

The Gamecocks are averaging just 59.5 points per game in their four SEC losses.

"We're struggling," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said this week. "Do we need a win? Absolutely.

"We've got to find a way to get some easy baskets. Alabama is extremely effective in their half-court defense, and we've got to get some things in transition.

"When you get in a situation where you're pressing a little bit, you make mistakes, and in our case, it's simple basketball stuff. We need to be strong with the basketball, stay disciplined on defense and do the basketball things we need to do better than we have."

The Gamecocks are led by 6-foot-5 guard Malik Cooke, who averages 12.2 points per game. South Carolina attempts 19 3-point shots per game on average.

Alabama did do a better job of upping its tempo in Saturday's loss in Lexington, Ky., putting 71 points on the board against now-No. 1 Kentucky.

"Our tempo has changed," Crimson Tide freshman guard Trevor Lacey said Monday. "Coach isn't allowing us to walk the ball up the court. If you want to play, you're going to push the ball up the court and try to get easy baskets and set up if that's not there in transition.

"I think against Kentucky we did a better of job of being aggressive and attacking as opposed to (the game) against Vanderbilt," Grant said. "For the most part we got good shots coming down the floor and need to care of the basketball with the possessions we do have. That's the direction our team needs to go in."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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