Avery Johnson thinks slowing down Moody and Saiz is key for an upset
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson is adamant the Southeastern Conference tournament championship can be won by any of the 13 participating teams, but he admits a win over Ole Miss Thursday night would be considered an upset.
“We are a 10th seed, so if we beat Ole Miss, that’s an upset,” Johnson said on the last SEC Men’s Basketball Teleconference of the season.
It’s a new season, a fresh start for all of the programs in this year’s SEC tournament, but each team realizes one loss could mean the end of the road. Both the Crimson Tide and Rebels (20-11) are playing for the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament awarded to the conference tournament champion.
During the course of this season, Alabama was, at one time, in the conversation for a post season bid with wins over Wichita State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida, and LSU. However, following a five-game winning streak in the month of February, the 10th-seed Crimson Tide (17-13) has gone 1-4.
Alabama enters Thursday night’s second-round game (6:00 p.m., SEC Network) against the No. 7-seed Rebels on a two-game losing streak after losses to Arkansas and Georgia.
In order for Alabama to get into Friday’s potential quarterfinal matchup against second-seeded Kentucky, it will have to find a way to slow down the Rebels’ senior guard Stefan Moody, who scored 21 points on 3-for-9 shooting in the 74-66 win between both schools on Jan. 7—the first-ever game played inside The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
Another problem the Crimson Tide had to deal with in the first matchup was junior forward Sebastian Saiz who also scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting and pulled down 16 rebounds. Alabama ranks dead last in the SEC in points per game (66.6).
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson
Saiz’ timing returns
In the Rebels’ lopsided 83-60 win over Tennessee on Saturday, Saiz had 23 points and 11 rebounds. It was his first double-double since Ole Miss’ 85-76 home win over Missouri on Feb. 23 where he had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Ole Miss assistant coach Bill Armstrong thinks the solid play of Saiz against the Vols indicates he’s back to normal. For the season, Saiz averaged 12 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
“He’s been battling back and his timing is coming back,” said Armstrong, who filled in for head coach Andy Kennedy on Monday’s SEC Men’s Basketball Teleconference. Kennedy was in Jackson, Mississippi for the presentation of the 2016 C Spire Howell Trophy, which went to Moody for the second-consecutive year.
“I think that was his biggest thing,” Armstrong said of Saiz. “He had to sit three weeks without doing anything at all. Therefore, he lost some of his timing, which is key in his game and I believe he’s gotten that back after the way he played against Tennessee on Saturday.”
Keys to stopping Alabama
While Ole Miss looks solid on the offensive end, the Rebels will have to game plan defensively for Alabama senior guard Retin Obasohan, who had 23 points in the first meeting and has shown tremendous improvement on the offensive end each year he’s been with the Crimson Tide.
Obasohan averaged 9.5 and 6.2 points in his sophomore and junior seasons. This year, he’s averaging a team-best 17.7 points per game and is shooting 47.3 percent from the field. His scoring average is currently fifth in the SEC.
“I don’t know if there’s any shutting him down, we just got to do our best to contain him and try to make everything hard for him.” Armstrong said about Obasohan. “He’s a great scorer; he has turned into a really good point guard. And we’ve got to be able to get defensive rebounds and hold them to one shot.
“We have to guard the 3-point line. They shoot the three well. Shannon Hale is coming into the game with a lot of confidence, so we will have to do different things from a ball-screen standpoint and mixing up defenses to try and keep them out of rhythm. But they’ve got a very good team and offensively.”