When coach Avery Johnson took the job at Alabama, most people expected him to turn the men’s basketball program around in time. What most people did not expect was for Alabama to be on the bubble watch during Johnson’s first year with the program, but it did.
After four straight wins, including one over a No. 15 Texas A&M team, Alabama is right back in the NCAA tournament race.
“It is very surprising,” Johnson said. “Anybody with a brain would agree that we have already over achieved.”
There are a lot of factors that have Alabama sliding back into the competition, and junior Jimmy Taylor is one of them. In Alabama’s last game, a 61-55 win over Florida, Taylor brought energy and effort to his team’s offense, including multiple blocks and dunks.
“Jimmy’s passion has affected our team in a very positive way,” Johnson said. “It just doesn’t start when you see him in games. He is engaged more even in video sessions.”
Alabama is riding the high of a four-game winning streak, but another tough opponent is on the horizon for the Crimson Tide. The team travels to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers for a rematch of the Jan. 26 contest that LSU slid by with a 72-70 win.
The game against LSU could be huge in boosting the team’s resume, but senior guard Retin Obasohan believes the team should not get caught up in the distraction of the NCAA tournament watch.
“We don’t really think about that stuff because we want to take it one game at a time,” he said. “You never know what the future holds, and you do not want to start speculating.”
Facing LSU comes with many challenges, including a hostile crowd and a tough SEC opponent ranked in the top half of the conference. One of the biggest challenges will be shutting down freshman sensation, Ben Simmons. In the last matchup, Simmons carried the Tigers in a near double-double performance.
Alabama’s Shannon Hale, who is currently nursing a slight foot injury, is one of the forwards tasked with guarding the talented freshman.
“We have to keep him off the offensive glass,” Hale said. “I think we are going to change up our defense a little more and try to deny him the ball.”
Alabama could extend its winning streak to five and pick up another important win for its tournament hopes. A win on the road against LSU could add on to the excitement and feeling fans have that Johnson has started to turn the program around.
“We are playing an outstanding team led by an outstanding young player in Ben Simmons,” Johnson said. “[LSU coach] Johnny [Jones] has seemed like he has shortened his rotation. Their starting five is playing most of the minutes. Their starting five is, I think, one of the best starting fives in the country.”