NOTEBOOK: Tide needs faster starts

TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama men's basketball team has developed an identity as a second-half team in the early portion of the 2012-13 season.
The Crimson Tide has outscored opponents by an average of 8.9 points and has shot 45.9 percent from the field after intermission through eight games. UA has also cut down on turnovers in the second half, committing 34 turnovers after the break as opposed to 63 first-half turnovers.
Alabama (6-2) has a two-game losing streak, with losses at Cincinnati and at home to Dayton. Alabama won the second half at Cincinnati, 29-25, and played even with Dayton, 43-all, after intermission. Cincinnati is 9-0 with wins over the likes of Oregon and Iowa State, and Dayton is 7-2 with wins over Auburn and Boston College.
UA coach Anthony Grant wants his team to get off to faster starts. Alabama holds an average edge of 2.8 points over its opponents at halftime and is shooting 44.4 percent from the floor in first halves.
"Our basketball team doesn't understand what it takes right now," Grant said after the Dayton game. "I don't want to take anything away from Dayton, but (the slow start) happened at Cincinnati, it happened against Lamar. We have great guys, but they have to learn competitiveness."
Alabama is on break for exam week. The Crimson Tide will visit Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday and Texas Tech next Wednesday before playing at home again Dec. 22 vs. Mercer.
Awaiting word
Alabama is hopeful that it will receive medical news this week on center Carl Engstrom and guard Andrew Steele, who have both missed action lately because of injury.
Engstrom, a 7-foot-1 junior, had started three games in a row before sustaining a knee injury at Cincinnati. He has not played since. Steele, a senior reserve guard, also sat out the Dayton game, and his status is not clear at this time. Moussa Gueye, a 7-foot reserve center, landed awkwardly on his knee in the second half against Dayton and left the game but would have been available to return, Grant said.
A magnetic resonance imaging test on Engstrom was inconclusive. Alabama hopes to clarify the condition of both players by midweek.
Alabama has used five different starting lineups this season. Sophomores Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph are the only players who have started all eight games. Engstrom has been part of three different starting combinations.
Improvement beyond arc
The Alabama men's basketball team has improved its 3-point shooting over last season.
The Crimson Tide made just 28.9 percent of its shots beyond the arc last season, ranking last in the Southeastern Conference. So far, UA has made 55 of 153 tries from 3-point range this season for 35.9 percent, which ranks fifth in the league.
Alabama's season high for 3-pointers last season was seven, a mark reached three times. This year, UA has already made nine treys twice (against Villanova and West Alabama) and has hit seven or more 3-pointers in five of eight games.
Impact newcomer
Sophomore Daisha Simmons, a transfer from Rutgers, leads the UA women's basketball team in points (13.7), steals (4.0), assists (4.4), blocks (1.3) and minutes (33.1). The 5-foot-10 point guard from Jersey City, N.J., has scored in double figures in six of seven games this season, with a high of 22 points at Houston.
Simmons ranks first in the SEC in steals and ninth nationally.
Alabama is 5-2, coming off back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Chattanooga. The Crimson Tide will return to action Saturday at Troy and host Wofford at 11 a.m. in Foster Auditorium next Monday. The morning game will be UA's annual Fifth Grade Fastbreak game, with area fifth-grade students brought in by bus through programs with their schools. Alabama players go out to schools during the fall semester and use basketball as part of the fifth-grade curriculum, with the game trip serving as reward for the children at the end of the year.
Taking charge
Nikki Hegstetter, a freshman for the Alabama women's basketball team, has taken 10 charges. The Crimson Tide has drawn 13.
UA has also done well in turnover ratio. Alabama is forcing 31 turnovers per game while only turning the ball over 16 times on average. The plus-15 margin ranks No. 1 in the SEC and tops in the nation.
Track recruiting class No. 3
Alabama's recruiting class in men's track and field has been ranked third-best in the nation by Track and Field News magazine.
"This ranking is a fitting indication of the hard work and dedication that our coaches have displayed throughout their first year at Alabama," UA coach Dan Waters said. "Coaches Dick Booth, Matt Kane, Miguel Pate, Doug Reynolds and Adam Tribble put this group together, in addition to an excellent class of women's recruits that also signed with us. Thanks to their hard work, our program earned this ranking. We're very excited about the future of Alabama track and field."
Florida State's incoming class was ranked first, with Ohio State second. Other top-10 SEC classes were Texas A&M at fourth, Arkansas at sixth and Florida at seventh. $99.00 Gift Card (new subscribers click here); current subscribers CALL 1-866-2-RIVALS to take advantage before the Dec. 15th deadline!
Reach Tommy Deas at or at 205-722-0224.