TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama men's basketball coach Anthony Grant doesn't like to measure his program's progress against what other teams are doing, but Tuesday night's loss to Tennessee put into perspective how far the Crimson Tide has to go.
Although the No. 8 Volunteers were shorthanded, they still had more size and depth than Alabama and used both to pull out a 63-56 victory at Coleman Coliseum.
"I don't know if we'll line up for a game this year and say straight up we have more talent than anybody in this league," Grant said. "That's not taking away anything from our guys, but this is a very competitive league."
Although defensively the Tide could boast it was on par, with two more rebounds to go with an 8-2 advantage in blocked shots and held Tennessee to just 39.3 percent in shooting (22 of 56), offensively it was a much different story.
Overall, Alabama shot 37.9 percent (22 of 58), made four of 15 3-points attempts (26.7 percent) and the starting senior backcourt totaled just three points, with Anthony Brock completely shut out and Mikhail Torrance 1-for-9.
"We really just wanted to send him into the left and keep the ball out of his strong hand," UT sophomore guard Scotty Hopson said about Torrance, who coming in led the Tide in scoring with 15.9 points per game. "He's really the life of their offense. He gets them going so I knew that it was important to get him out of his rhythm."
"What happened was after Torrance wasn't effective in the ball-screen offense and the spread, they relied on the full scheme and you can see how challenged we were to guard (sophomore forward JaMychal) Green on the inside and they had a couple guys, like (junior forward Chris) Hines," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "But they aren't going to beat us with Hines shooting 16-foot jump shots."
But Hines did provide a much-needed spark to get Alabama out of one of its second half scoring lulls, after the Tide missed four straight shots and had three turnovers as Tennessee went on an 11-2 run. Down 44-33, he made both a layup (but missed the free throw after drawing the foul) and 3-pointer, and Torrance's steal and drive brought the crowd of 12,098 to its feet.
Only Alabama (11-7, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) never got closer than 56-53.
Tennessee (15-2, 3-0) held it to only one basket over the final 3 minutes, 30 seconds and made 5 of 6 free throws to keep its cushion, while senior forward/center Wayne Chism, who had been scoreless during the first 32 minutes, netted all 11 of his points down the stretch.
"I put the blame on myself because in crunch time Chism had two baskets on me," said Green, but also stated: "Coach told us to be 'King of the Block' and keep him out of position defensively and offensively get him in foul trouble."
Freshman forward Tony Mitchell, making his first start in a month (Dec. 19 vs. Kansas State) had five of those blocks and Green had one on what otherwise would have been a breakaway layup. Otherwise, Green had his fourth double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Mitchell just missed with 11 points and nine rebounds.
"We have to find a way to generate more offense," Grant said.
It was Alabama's third-straight loss and Tennessee's seventh consecutive win, fourth since four players were arrested on drug and weapons charges. Tyler Smith was kicked off the team, Brian Williams remains suspended, while Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum suited up for the first time in three weeks but did not play.
Nevertheless, UT's depth and size advantage, especially on the perimeter where Hopson scored 17 points, and Kenny Hall came off the bench for 12 points and 10 rebounds, is something that Grant's going to need time to develop and potentially match.
"We're obviously disappointed with the results," he said. "Tough game."