Alabama edges out win against Arizona
Published 6:30 pm Sunday, December 9, 2018
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
TUSCALOOSA – With 15:14 left in the first half of Alabama’s home matchup with the Arizona Wildcats, Alex Reese stepped on the floor and made an immediate impact.
At the time, Reese was part of a quick spurt that saw him hit a layup followed by a steal on the other end which led to a Kira Lewis Jr. layup. Over the next five minutes of action, Reese scored eight points and Alabama went on a 20-2 run to take a 30-14 lead.
While that lead ended up being blown, and Lewis ended up being the difference with a clutch step-back 3-pointer with 13.2 seconds left in the game, that first-half run sparked by Reese gave Alabama the confidence it needed for a 76-73 win coming off a disappointing loss to Georgia State as well as back-to-back losses.
“It was big to come out and get a lead to start the game, instead of coming out and being down to start the game,” Reese said after of that first-half run. “I was glad I was able to come in, hit shots and do what I could to give us a little bit more energy.”
Despite the strong lead by the Crimson Tide in the first half, the Wildcats were finally able to start making baskets after stretch of going 1-for-9 at one point.
Doing so kept Alabama from running out fast breaks off of rebounds and turnovers, which saw the Crimson Tide go cold and the Wildcats battle back to within nine points, 39-30, at halftime.
Arizona then started the second half on a 6-0 run to climb back within three points, and again, Alabama looked to be on the ropes like its previous matchup with Georgia State.
The Wildcats eventually overtook the lead for the first time since early in the first half when former Crimson Tide player Justin Coleman hit a jump shot to give Arizona a 54-53 advantage.
“We knew we had to finish the game out,” Tevin Mack said of Arizona’s run. “We knew what happened last time out and didn’t want to repeat that. We had some good carry over from the things we worked on in practice over the last few days.
Down the stretch, Alabama didn’t falter and found itself in a back-and-forth affair with each team trading baskets over the final 10:27 with neither team taking more than a five-point lead.
“We weren’t going to drop our heads,” head coach Avery Johnson said of the deficit and bounce back from the last game. “I told them this was going to be a fight and a fight to the very end. That’s what happens against a really good basketball team, but we didn’t drop our heads.”
With 20 seconds left, Alabama held a 70-68 lead with the shot clock winding down, before Lewis pulled a strong jab-dribble, step-back move to create space and drain a 3-pointer to put the Crimson Tide up 73-68.
After playing the free throw game, the Wildcats battled back within a point at 74-73 thanks to two made free throws from Coleman, but then Lewis stepped to the line and closed the game out with two made free throws for the 76-73 victory.
“It’s a huge win coming off the last game against Georgia State,” Reese said. “That was a tough loss for us but we were able to bounce back, have three days of hard practice, so to be able to execute that was big for us.”
Lewis led Alabama with 20 points, while Reese posted 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Donta Hall ended the game with 13 points and nine rebound, while Mack posted 12 points and six rebounds. The Crimson Tide got 29 bench points, compared to six from Arizona; and they also shot 46.4 percent from the field, compared to Arizona’s 41 percent.
“This looked like a much better Alabama basketball team today,” Johnson said after the win. “I’m just really happy and proud of our guys. It really exemplified the character of our team. I don’t know a lot of teams can come back to win after such a disappointing second half that we had in our last game at home, but give our guys credit.
“They were subjected to some really hard practices over the last couple of days, and they responded. We handled one of the most disappointing losses in our players playing careers and coaches coaching careers.”
Johnson was also proud of Reese and the spark he was able to bring to the table in the big victory.
“It’s a byproduct of hard work,” he said. “This guy was relentless this summer. Wasn’t in the gym as much summer of his freshman year and wasn’t committed as much. Last year he was a 250-pound stretch five. Now he’s fit, playing four and five. Playing in the mid-range game. He’s very competitive and doesn’t get down on himself.”
Alabama will now how more than a week off before returning to the court on Tuesday, Dec. 18, in the Rocket City Classic in Huntsville against Liberty. The Crimson Tide’s next home game will be on Friday, Dec. 21, against Penn State at home.