The 3-pointer: Three takeaways from No. 16 Alabama's win over LSU
The Tigers kept pace with Alabama in the opening period, mostly via Will Baker's 22-point opening period. But just like it has all season against weaker foes, Alabama's exceptional offense was just too much to handle as it ultimately throttled LSU 109-92 on its home floor.
Alabama took 81 shots, 21 more than its opponents and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. Five players finished in double figures and it's guard play looked spectacular and once again, which highlights just how lethal the Crimson Tide's offense can be when it gets going.
"We got challenged all week in practice the last two days," Guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. said. "We had a really two good days of practice and the main focus was us being smaller. With a smaller lineup we need to rebound, our guards do. Our bigs are stepping up rebounding, so we have to help them out rebounding. So just helping us rebound as guards is another way for us to be a winning team."
The defensive effort wasn't perfect, but improved marginally over the course of the game, which against a side like LSU against for an offense like Alabama's, is enough to help it earn another win and stay at the top of the SEC standings.
Here are three takeaways from Alabama's win over LSU.
First-half defense optional
Alabama didn’t exactly heed coach Nate Oats’ request for an improved defensive performance in its second road game of the week.
The pace of Saturday’s game was blistering with both offenses scoring at will. Just like against Auburn, Alabama’s small-ball lineup didn’t have the answers defensively. Oats went to his bench early, swapping Grant Nelson for Nick Pringle at the center position.
The change did little to stop Baker, LSU's 7-foot forward who was up to 13 points before the 12-minute mark of the first half. He continued to play with his hair on fire, scoring 22 of LSU’s 46 points in the opening period.
Baker’s stat line continues to add to a worrying narrative that Alabama cannot guard experienced and skilled forwards. Baker was able to stretch the Crimson Tide’s defense beyond the 3-point line and had no problem taking on Nelson, Pringle and others in one-on-one situations.
"I thought (Nelson) was the one that was getting killed the most by Baker," Oats said. "So (I told him) 'Grant we gotta a man up and guard him here in the second half.' I thought the first possession of the second half Grant did a much better job. He forced him to go to his right hand instead of giving him his left."
Alabama did make some adjustments on Baker, using Rylan Griffen as a help defender along with Nelson and Pringle to force Baker off of his favored left hand. Those changes limited Baker to two points along with three turnovers as LSU's offense got more fatigued as the game went on.
However, LSU still finished with 44 points in the paint and shot 55% from the field, including 59% in the first half. Despite some successful defensive adjustments, LSU managed to keep itself in the game for longer than the visitors would of liked. When Baker cooled off it was Jalen Cook, who missed the Tigers' last game with a hamstring injury, picking up the slack. Cook finished with 20 points, 18 of which came in the second half.
"We've got a lot of offensive firepower," Oats said. "We're liable to explode at any point. If we can get our defense better, we could be a pretty dominant team."
Tide cashes in off Tigers' mistakes
While Alabama’s defense once again showed its flaws, LSU’s defense was similarly absent, and the nation's most efficient offense kept the Crimson Tide in the game as a result. Alabama shot just 1-for-10 from the field to end the first half but held a three-point lead thanks to its ability to score off turnovers and a bounceback game from 3-point range.
The Crimson Tide was able to force 12 LSU turnovers, seven of which came in the second half. What made the difference for Alabama, however, was its ability to turn those turnovers into points on the offensive end.
Alabama turned LSU’s turnovers into 23 points on offense. Points off turnovers was an area where the Crimson Tide had success against Auburn, too. While the Tide only forced five takeaways in Neville Arena, it turned those giveaways into 10 points.
The Crimson Tide also scored 15 fastbreak points, which helped set up its 3-point shooting Saturday. Alabama made nine 3s in the opening period, which matched its total for the entire game against Auburn. Alabama continued its barrage in the second half, hitting another nine triples in the final period to pull away. For the game, the Tide shot 40.9% from beyond the arc for the game.
"We went on a 8-0 run in about a minute," Oats said. "They call timeout and then it's kind of over at that point. We came out of the timeout, hit a few more, opened it up. We're explosive offensively. I think we had a few big runs in both (LSU) games that opened it up and we're able to take it home from there."
Wrightsell did the most damage for the Tide from deep. He started the game by making his first three 3s and finished with a season high 21 points, along with 10 rebounds and four assists. When LSU went on an 8-0 run that made it 68-65 in favor of Alabama, a Wrightsell 3 stopped the bleeding and gave Alabama more of a cushion.
"Trelly hits big baskets," Oats said. "I get irritated with him when he passes up open shots. He's such a good shooter. It's like every time he shoots pretty much count them as three points in my head. If he misses I'm shocked."
Mark Sears was his usual self on offense, finishing with 23 points, including four 3s. Griffen heated up in the second half and made four 3s to finish with 16 points, along with two rebounds and six assists. Between them, Alabama's guards had 22 assists to three turnovers.
The Crimson Tide had virtually zero presence from its bench against Auburn. Oats’ substitutes combined for just eight points. Sears was forced to play 37 minutes to make up for a lack of a bench presence and help Alabama on the glass.
Alabama’s reserves, particularly Pringle, got the message that they needed to play better. Pringle was seen on the broadcast hyping up his teammates and he maintained that energy for the entire game. Pringle set a new season high with 17 points and added five rebounds and a block.
"It's an 11 o'clock tip you gotta get yourself mentally ready to go," Oats said. "Some of our guys did not do a great job of that, Nick obviously did. So hopefully he can use this as a springboard to really start playing some great basketball for us."
After missing two games with a suspension and a rough outing against Auburn, Pringle logged his best offensive performance of the season and gave Alabama the boost it needed to help pull away. With Mohamed Wague limited by his inability to stay out of foul trouble and injuries, Alabama will need Pringle to continue to log similar performances moving forward.
"I'm so happy for Nick," Oats said. "He has been up and down, and in and out of the lineup His attitude has been great all week. His effort and practice has been great all week. I think he's at the place where he needs to be mentally, emotionally. He's here to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Jarin Stevenson also looked more comfortable off the bench than he did against Auburn. On two separate occasions, Pringle and Stevenson connected on a lob where Stevenson placed the ball perfectly for Pringle to throw down, helping Alabama stretch its lead in the second half. The freshman forward finished with five points and two assists.
Fellow freshman Sam Walters added a triple as Alabama scored 27 bench points. The only reserve who didn’t score was Mouhamed Dioubate, who had three rebounds, a block and finished with a plus-12 box plus-minus.