Nov. 26, 2008
Just hours after a bitter loss to Oregon in the first game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Alabama returned to the Lahaina Civic Center to take on tournament host Chaminade in an 11 a.m. Hawaii Time tipoff. Just 14 hours before, the Crimson Tide had been embarrassed by Oregon in a 92-69 loss. Now, armed with little more than a half hour scouting meeting on Chaminade, some carefully prepared video to study, and an emotional talk by head coach Mark Gottfried, the Crimson Tide got back to business early Tuesday morning.
The business at hand had more to do than just achieving the simple goal of winning a basketball game that most observers felt the Tide should win easily, what with the Silverswords being a lower-division opponent with a record of 5-66 all-time in the Maui Invitational. The real goal of Tuesday's game, what Gottfried and his staff was looking for, was taking a step toward achieving the mantra Gottfried has been preaching since before the season began - this team needs to discover how it needs to play to be effective.
Through three games, that seemingly simple goal had eluded this team. On Tuesday - with all the frivolity and good feeling that had built up through the first four days of this trip seemingly lost in a second half collapse against Oregon - taking a step toward finding what that is became absolutely critical. After a relatively slow start, the Crimson Tide used solid rebounding, aggressive defense and good execution of its half-court offense to forge a 40-20 halftime lead on the way to a solid 78-56 victory over Chaminade.
The basketball season is a long one. Gottfried is constantly reminding that the Tide has 30 games on its schedule this year, not counting post-season play, with Tuesday's matchup only being game 4 on that slate. Nevertheless, Tuesday's game was critical to this team's development. Goals - both short-term and long-term - change over the course of a season. After Tuesday's win, the goal for Wednesday was simple: finish the tournament strong.
This team has played good basketball in three of four halves in Maui. St. Joseph's is not Chaminade. It is a solid program that is used to winning. Much like Alabama. But the goals for Wednesday morning's 9 a.m. (in Hawaii - 1 p.m. Tuscaloosa Time) game have little to do with St. Joe's and everything to do with what the Tide wants from itself. Simply put, play two good halves of basketball and start to build some momentum heading into December. Keep improving. Keep getting closer as a unit. If the Tide can do that, the outcome will take care of itself.
A few tidbits from Tuesday's victory with an eye on some things to watch for on Wednesday:
*The win over Chaminade was Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried's 200th victory at Alabama. Gottfried now has a 200-126 record in his 11th season with the Crimson Tide. With 200 wins at Alabama, Gottfried joined an exclusive club of 200 game winners at Alabama. Wimp Sanderson (267), Hank Crisp (264) and C.M. Newton (211) are the only other coaches in school history to reach the 200-win mark with the Tide. The coach took the win in stride when told about it. The players were told about it after Gottfried finished his post-game talk to them. They gave the coach enthusiastic applause, some hugs and shared their congratulations.
*Point guard Ronald Steele is rapidly approaching the exclusive 1,000-point club. With 9 points against Chaminade in limited action, Steele enters the St. Joseph's game with 982 career points. Forty-one current or former members of the Crimson Tide have reached the milestone. Teammate Alonzo Gee eclipsed the mark last season and currently sits 36th on the all time UA scoring list. Head coach Mark Gottfried ranks 41st with 1,056 points.
*Wednesday's clash with St. Joseph's will be only the second meeting between the two schools. St. Joseph's defeated Alabama, 74-69, in the lone previous meeting in the 1996 NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
*For the first time this season guard/forward Alonzo Gee showed flashes of his usual play in the win over Chaminade as he scored 12 points. Gee ranks 36th in Alabama history in scoring with 1,156 and figures to climb up that chart steadily this season.
*Sophomore guard Senario Hillman scored a game-high 22 points, marking the second straight game in which he has notched a career-best scoring total. But Hillman was consistent in his thoughts on his scoring after both games. His primary concern each game is making an impact defensively, something that led to several of his baskets in both games. But one facet of his game that has been obviously improved is his jump shooting, particularly from long range. Improving his jump shot was his main objective during the offseason, and it seems to be helping him.
*In other action Tuesday on Maui, Notre Dame edged Texas, 81-80, and top-ranked North Carolina drubbed Oregon, 98-69. That sets up a Wednesday championship clash between Notre Dame and North Carolina. In other Wednesday games, Texas will meet Oregon and Indiana takes on Chaminade in the other consolation game.
After returning to the Westin Maui after the win over Chaminade, the team gathered for a team meeting to go over strategy for the St. Joseph's game. The Hawks knocked off Indiana, 80-54, earlier on Tuesday. A perennial Atlantic 10 Conference power, St. Joe's lost to Texas in the Maui opener by a score of 68-50.
After the skull session the players had some time to relax. Several went shopping, taking a shuttle bus to downtown Lahaina and to the Lahaina Mall, while others walked along the beach or stayed in their rooms watching television. Wednesday's 9 a.m. tip means an early night. Breakfast is schedule for 6:30. The bus for the arena will leave at 7:45.