What did we learn today?: The Crimson Tide is maximizing what it can do on defense. Bama simply doesn’t have the height or the quality depth to be an elite all-around defensive team, but within those limitations it is becoming increasingly disruptive and playing at a far higher level this month than it did in November. The Spiders entered Sunday as the seventh-best team in Division I in assists per game and 14th in 3-point percentage. By disrupting the first element (only 11 assists allowed), Alabama shut down the second (as Richmond went 6-for-24 behind the arc). Bama played disciplined defense, refusing to get sucked into double-teaming ball handlers inside and leaving the perimeter unguarded. UR’s Princeton-style motion offense relies on back cuts and kickouts to the arc. With the Spiders forced to create off the dribble, they couldn’t keep pace.
What was the best part of the game?: The Tide reached a nearly Platonic ideal to open the second half, when the first seven field goals were scored by seven different players. The pregame scouting report was to focus on guarding John Petty and Kira Lewis and the adjustment at halftime was to try and stop Shackelford. But every time Richmond concentrated its efforts on one player, another popped up to push a four-point halftime lead into double digits. And despite relatively quiet starts, Petty and Lewis each scored 17 points while Herbert Jones finished with a double double.
Who was the star?: Shackelford not only hit six 3-pointers, he showed off some decent inside moves and drew enough fouls to grab another half-dozen points at the free throw line. He has survived the first test for any freshman, which is to bounce back after the inevitable early-season scoring slump. In back-to-back games, Shackelford is a combined 14-for-30 from the field and enters SEC play with the potential to be one of the more dangerous bench players in the league.
What were the biggest concerns?: With Jones and Beetle Bolden each playing less than 25 minutes, there were many times when Petty was called on to be the secondary ball handler behind Lewis. And that proved disastrous, with Petty responsible for seven of Alabama’s 15 turnovers. Likewise, there was an extended segment during a 13-3 Spiders run where Petty was pressed into service as a forward and simply didn’t have the size to keep UR away from the offensive glass. He’s become more than just a pure spot-up shooter, but Petty also doesn’t have the versatile range that would truly let Nate Oats’ offense run at a championship level. There’s still a need to game plan around his weaknesses, but even with those negatives Petty had six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and made five of his last six field goals.
What’s next: After one final stretch without a midweek game, a brutal opening stretch of SEC play begins with a Saturday trip to Florida. Tipoff on ESPN2 is at 5 p.m. Central.
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