Six reasons Alabama basketball played its best game and beat OU

TUSCALOOSA, AL - JANUARY 27: Collin Sexton
TUSCALOOSA, AL - JANUARY 27: Collin Sexton /

Alabama basketball took down one of the nation’s best teams Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Let’s review six reasons why the Tide played its best game of the season.

The Oklahoma Sooners came to Tuscaloosa 15-4, No.12 in the AP Poll and a projected NCAA tourney No. 3 seed. Alabama basketball was unranked and in the No. 10-11 NCAA seed range. The Sooners were a slight favorite, the result of dropping two out of their last three games. That one recent win was a huge one, taking down the No. 5 ranked Kansas Jayhawks earlier in the week.

The game was billed as a battle of two of the top freshman in the nation in Collin Sexton and Trae Young. Over 50 NBA scouts and executives were present to assess the likely one-and-done, NBA first-round picks. Sexton ended up out-playing Young, mostly due to the defensive efforts of the Tide’s Herbert Jones. Jones had the primary task of shutting down Young, with help from Sexton, Braxton Key, Dazon Ingram and Avery Johnson Jr.

Trae Young is an exceptional player. He has earned comparisons to Stephen Curry. Going into Saturday afternoon, Young had averaged 30.3 points, 9.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds. Against the Tide, he managed 17 points, eight assists and three rebounds. In the last 11 minutes of the game, Alabama basketball held the Sooners to 23.8 percent shooting. In those 11 minutes, the Tide held Trae Young to zero points.

Trae Young came to Tuscaloosa as one of the best players in the nation. The Sooners lost because Alabama basketball was the better team. Let’s review the six reasons why.

It was a team victory but three individuals stood out

  • Collin Sexton was more than up to the challenge. Sexton has been recovering from groin and abdominal strains in January. He missed the Auburn and Mississippi State games, In those two wins, the Alabama basketball offense had performed better without Collin on the court. In his last three games before Saturday, two before his injury break and one after, Sexton had struggled. In those three contests, he shot 8-for-37. Against the Sooners he was 8-for-14.
  • Herbert Jones played his best game of the season. In addition to his stellar defense, he added 14 points, five rebounds and three assists. Few will argue Herbert Jones was the best player in the game. Check out this Herbert explosion.
  • Avery Johnson coached the best game of his Alabama basketball career. His defensive plan was superior. His offensive strategy of either scoring off a break or making the Sooners work on defense well into the shot clock worked. Oklahoma wins by outscoring teams rather than shutting them down defensively. Avery made them work most, at what they do not do best. Even Avery’s often perplexing player rotation was effective. Alabama was clearly the fresher team late.

Three other reasons

The three reasons above might not have been enough for the upset. There were three more, less obvious reasons.

  • Alabama made 17 turnovers in the game, but only six in the second half. John Petty who hit some big threes was also too loose with the ball. With four un-forced turnovers, Petty’s second-half minutes were sharply curtailed. The rest of the team only made three second-half turnovers.
  • The Tide played aggressive defense without fouling. The team only committed 11 fouls in the game. When Oklahoma needed to erase the second-half deficit, the Tide kept them off the foul line. The Sooners shot only five second-half free throws.
  • The Tide was effective in half-court sets. Too often this season, the Tide half-court offense was stagnant, appearing too dependent on Collin Sexton. The Tide took 54 shots Saturday, only 14 of them by Collin. The extra distribution yielded 15 assists and 56 percent shooting. Below is one example.

Check out this summary of the game as Avery described it,

"I thought we played a little bit more of a mature basketball game today. We were focused for a long period of time. I thought our guys accepted the challenge of arguably one of the top players that’s played college basketball in the last several years. There’s no magic formula in what we did. Normally during the course of a game, we probably mix up our defenses about three or four times. Today, we gave him (Trae Young) about seven different looks.  Six of them were successful."

Avery had one additional comment. He said the Coleman Coliseum crowd was “magical.”

Next: The Crimson Tide and Decade Dominance

Alabama basketball has ten more regular season games. Each one is crucial. Next up is Missouri, Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa.