TUSCALOOSA — The message isn’t subtle in any way.
Taped to the glass backboard at Alabama’s practices is a sheet of paper that shows the Crimson Tide where it stands nationally in rebounding. Posted by associate head coach Bob Simon, the sheet is a constant reminder of how far Alabama has come in terms of rebounding and how important it is to the Tide’s success.
“We have that in practice, it’s like a piece of paper on the backboard telling us how far we’ve came from,” Alabama forward Donta Hall said. “Last year, defensively or offensively we were like 320-something. Now, we done brought our offense down to 23 maybe, so I feel like that’s a big goal we have accomplished.”
Alabama (9-6, 2-1 SEC) heads into Saturday’s game at LSU (9-6, 1-3) ranked No. 30 in the nation in rebound margin, averaging plus-6.5 rebounds a game. In SEC play, the Tide has been even more impressive, posting a league-best plus-13 margin.
“We’ve made a serious concerted effort to put a big focus on what we’re doing in the rebounding area both in the conference and nationally, and we present that to them every day,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “Because we are still an emerging offensive team, we have to rebound the basketball.”
Despite suffering its first SEC loss Tuesday, an 80-67 defeat to Florida, Alabama enters Saturday’s game having won four of its last five games. The recent run has been spearheaded by two main changes: an improved performance on the boards and an ability to get down the court for easy baskets.
Which one of those leads to the other is a tough question to answer. Sophomore point guard Avery Johnson Jr. says it’s a little bit of both. As a point guard, Johnson said he and the rest of the guards have dedicated a lot of effort toward moving fast with the ball. Of course, that's a lot easier when the team can grab a rebound and go.
“I think they’re both connected,” he said. “It just depends how you want to look at it, but we put a big emphasis on rebounding on both sides of this offseason.”
When asked the same question, the elder Johnson took a different approach, stating that much of the improvement comes down to the Tide’s personnel this season. Johnson singled out redshirt freshman Dazon Ingram, who is averaging 7.75 rebounds a game in his last four games, as perhaps the best rebounding point guard in the SEC. Playing in his first SEC action after suffering a season-ending foot injury last season, Ingram is third on the team with 5.1 rebounds a game.
Hall leads Alabama with 5.7 rebounds a game, while true freshman Braxton Key has also stepped up big with 5.5 a game.
Alabama will need to continue its strong performance on the boards Saturday against LSU. The Tigers rank third in the SEC shooting 46.2 percent from the court this season. LSU has plenty of threats on offense, including sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney, who is fifth in the SEC with 17.5 points a game, and junior forward Duop Reath, who is third in the league with a 53.8 field goal percentage.
“They have a lot of athletes,” Johnson said. “When you look at their team, Antonio Blakeney, he’s a guy that’s really great and is high on a lot of draft boards. They really can shoot the 3, (Jalyn) Patterson, Blakeney, (Brandon) Sampson. ... This is a game where we have to minimize their success from behind the 3-point line, we can’t give them any easy baskets.”
Tipoff for the game will be at 2:30 p.m. inside Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.