Alabama Coach Avery Johnson had been looking for a second scorer to lighten the load on guard Retin Obasohan, who made the all-league and all-defensive teams this season. Oh, and he also was the Southeastern Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Thursday night’s 81-73 victory over Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament brought Alabama not only a second, but a third and fourth scorers.
Obasohan did not score until more than two minutes into the second half. Yet the Tide, an offensive-challenged team this season, rolled into a Friday night quarterfinal game against Kentucky.
When asked how good Alabama can be with a diversified offense, Obasohan said, “You saw it.
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“Really, I never wanted to be a one-man show.”
In winning two regular-season games, Kentucky showed how hamstrung Alabama is when solely dependent on Obasohan. He scored 21 points in the first game, but his teammates made only 12 of 38 shots in a 77-61 loss. The rematch was even more one-sided on the scoreboard (UK won 78-53) and in Alabama’s side of the boxscore. Obasohan made more shots (9-8) and scored more points (31-22) than all his teammates.
By contrast, while Obasohan led Alabama with 17 points against Ole Miss, three of his teammates reached double figures. Riley Norris, who had less than 10 points in the last seven games, scored 16.
Arthur Edwards, who went scoreless at UK on Feb. 23, added 15. And Justin Coleman, who had no double-figure totals in the last five games, chipped in 15.
“We’re a much better team when we get more than one guy in double figures,” Johnson said.
Whether Alabama (18-13) can have a diversified attack against Kentucky remains to be seen.
Edwards acknowledged that playing UK can include getting past a psychological hurdle.
“We can’t look at it as, oh, it’s Kentucky,” he said.
Edwards lauded Tyler Ulis and company, but added, “We can’t look at it like we’re playing the Warriors.”
Johnson suggested that Alabama got caught up in the Kentucky mystique before the rematch in Rupp Arena.
“We were too much about them,” the Alabama coach said, “and not enough about us.”
History suggests Kentucky will win. UK has beaten Alabama eight straight times in the SEC Tournament. The Tide hasn’t eliminated Kentucky from the tournament since 1983.
“We know we have an uphill climb,” Johnson said of Alabama’s psyche going into this year’s SEC Tournament. The Tide lost four of their last five regular-season games. “It’s been that way throughout SEC play. We ran out of gas a little bit at the end of the regular season. We think we’ve been re-energized now, and our guys, we feel, are ready to play.”
Norris set the tone for Alabama against Ole Miss. He made three three-pointers before the second television timeout.
Johnson said Norris, who made eight threes against South Carolina, needs to be encouraged to shoot.
“I told him, whenever you lose confidence, just go back to the game when you made eight threes,” Johnson said. “Rewind that tape in your mind. Then you’ll remember you can shoot.”
Norris, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, has a bright green light.
“We encourage him when he’s open to shoot,” Johnson said. “I’d love to play for a coach like that: shoot when you’re open. And when you don’t think you’re open, shoot.”
Alabama needed a lot of offense. Ole Miss’ all-league guard, Stefan Moody, scored 39 points. That was the second-highest point total by a player in SEC Tournament history. UK’s Melvin Turpin scored 42 against Georgia in 1984.
“We already spotted him 20 points when he walked in the gym, OK?” Johnson said of Moody. “I spelled O-T-H-E-R-S in capital letters on the board. Those were the guys we were trying to minimize.”
Ole Miss (20-12) was the one-man man. The Rebels had only one other double-figure scorer, Tomasz Gielo, who had 11.
Before the game, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy likened Moody to Obasohan. Each was the undisputed centerpiece of his team.
Obasohan scored 17 of Alabama’s final 41 points. Afterward, he spoke of the possibility of beating Kentucky.
“We can play with those guys,” he said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we can win.”
No. 16 Kentucky vs. Alabama
What: SEC Tournament quarterfinals
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 23-8, Alabama 18-13
Series: Kentucky leads 107-37
Last meeting: Kentucky won 78-53 on Feb. 23 in Lexington.