Points haven’t come in bunches for Alabama this season, but its defense filled the gaps and powered the Crimson Tide into its first NCAA tournament in six years. Keeping pace with one of the nation’s best offenses in Friday’s second-round game creates a new challenge for coach Anthony Grant’s group.
Creighton (28-5) scores 80 points a game while Alabama’s managing 64.9 a night. Over the past five games, that number dipped to 59.5. Still, the Tide’s leading scorer feels better about the offense now that he did a few weeks ago.
“I think we’re finally getting it together,” senior JaMychal Green said. “Coach Grant just put in a couple new plays that fits us and it’s a better fit for our offense. I think the freshmen, they have confidence in themselves shooting the ball, and once they knock down a couple shots, it will be a good game. I think we’ll be hard to guard.”
Alabama (21-11) actually saw its shooting numbers improve as scoring production dropped. It shot above the season average of 45.2 percent in four of the last six games and was more than eight percentage points better in the SEC quarterfinal loss to Florida.
Attempting fewer 3-pointers helped the overall success rate. One of the nation’s worst perimeter shooting teams, Alabama makes 28.5 percent of its 3s compared to Creighton’s 42.5 3-point percentage. The Tide made 32.1 percent of its 3s in the past five games while attempting an average of three fewer than it has all season.
Freshman Trevor Lacey hit a big 3-pointer in the closing minute of Alabama’s SEC first-round win over South Carolina. And Levi Randolph beat the first-half buzzer against Florida from behind the arc.
So Green knows it’s possible for Alabama to catch a heater in Greensboro.
“They can shoot, but sometimes they don’t fall,” Green said. “They gain their confidence and they made a couple 3s in the last couple games. We’re going to need them to step up and they know what they have to do.”
Grant doesn’t stress too much over where the points come from as long as they pass through the net.
“For us, it’s about playing to our identity and playing to our strengths, and understanding who we are as a basketball team,” Grant said. “That gives us the best chance to win. Whether that’s going inside and getting to the free-throw line or shooting from the perimeter, whatever is giving us the best chance to win on that day, the smart decision is what allows you to win.”
And recently, that’s been pounding it inside as much as possible.
Three of its last four losses came in games Alabama didn’t see the free-throw line at least 20 times. The Tide averages 21.5 foul shots a game in wins and 14.4 in losses. Its Feb. 29 win over Auburn included more second-half points at the free-throw line (19) than the field (13).
“I think we’re about where we’ve been the last couple of weeks,” Grant said. “I think the biggest key for us is finding quality shots and making sure we take care of the basketball. As we head into the postseason, that would be my biggest focus for the team.”