NASHVILLE — Alabama coach Avery Johnson was proud of the way his team played in an 81-73 win over Mississippi Thursday night in the SEC Tournament that sets up a game tonight with Kentucky that the Tide needs to win to have any chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s what Johnson had to say after the game.
COACH JOHNSON: We’re excited. We had an opportunity to win this game. I’m so proud of our team. These two guys that are here on the podium, Retin Obasohan got off to a slow start but had a terrific second half; and on the other hand, Riley Norris helped ignite our offense when we were struggling with some of his three-point shooting.
So I’m just proud of our guys. They played hard. Obviously, you guys saw the game plan. We were going to try to do the best that we could do on Moody. We basically said, we know he’s going to score 20 points, but we’ve got to try to deal with the other guys. And I’m proud of the way we defended the other guys.
So a terrific victory for our team, and I’m just proud of our defensive effort. But as you can see, whether it’s at the free-throw line and with some of the decisions we made, we still have some improvement. So great victory for the Crimson Tide.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the job that Edwards and Coleman did tonight, not only in scoring, but they seemed to do a little bit of everything.
COACH JOHNSON: Absolutely. We’ve been just consistently talking about what type of team are we going to be when Retin is not in the game? And believe it or not, it was kind of a blessing in disguise when he got foul trouble. This is the second game, I think, in the last two weeks that he’s gotten in foul trouble. Didn’t play many minutes in the first half. And we were able to be on the lead with him on the bench. And it’s because of guys like Justin and Arthur taking and making big shots for us.
So when we shoot the three like we shot it tonight, it definitely helps our offense, especially when Retin is struggling a little bit offensively.
Q. Coach, I know you were not happy with the rebounding against Georgia on the road in the last regular season game, but the team tonight stayed close to the Rebels on the glass. Just talk about the shot blocking. Donta Hall with five. But 12 as a team, and Ole Miss did not record a blocked shot. But really, your interior defense really seemed to be the difference tonight.
COACH JOHNSON: Absolutely. We put so much of an emphasis on rebounding. We’ve had so many different rebounding drills. Everyone — I refer it to everyone I’ve learned in my career. Just making contact, and also it’s just a part of will. You’ve got to will yourself to want to rebound.
Our big guys did a tremendous job on Saiz. He embarrassed us the first game of SEC play at Ole Miss, and our big guys like Jimmie Taylor and Donta Hall and Shannon and Riley, those guys stepped up because that was a big part of our game plan was to try to slow him down.
Q. Coach, looking ahead to the Kentucky game, the last time you played Kentucky, you were very complimentary about Tyler Ulis and how he was able to play against you guys. How do you anticipate changing that tomorrow? How do you look to stop that again?
COACH JOHNSON: We’ve just got to try to stay in front of him, contain him, and we can’t afford for him to have a double double. Got to try to take something away, which is easily said than done. Fortunately for us, we’ve played him twice. Played him first game, 36- hour game after we played Ole Miss at home, and then we went in the Rupp Arena, and they got the best of us.
So we know what we’re dealing with. We feel we’re a little bit different team now. At least we played in a situation where they had a pretty large home crowd. They’ll have the same thing tomorrow from what I understand. So at least my guys won’t get shocked by what they’re going to see with their fans tomorrow.
Q. Coach, talk about the confidence level of the team. Even though you lost to Georgia, you seemed to play better, better balanced scoring. The defensive effort tonight, particularly in the second half, was very impressive. Just comment on the confidence that this team over the last couple games.
COACH JOHNSON: For some strange reason, when we’ve been counted out, we are so much of a better team. I could just see it in practice. We had a grueling practice on Thursday. I mean, a grueling practice because we were all in on this first game because, if you can win the first game, you never know what’s going to happen. And our guys responded.
There were some things that were said in practice that needed to be said. We had some long film sessions. I think we probably had the longest film session of the year on Monday. But our guys responded, and we got some good carryover.
But now we’re in a situation where we’ve got to get back to the hotel, get some rest, and come back out and play again and, hopefully, play the game the right way, the way we know we can play it, and don’t beat ourselves.
Q. Coach, with Retin getting two fouls early, I thought sometimes in the postseason you’ll see guys step up. Talk about the 15 minutes you got out of Brandon Austin tonight.
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah. You know, Brandon, even though he only scored 5 points, he was our team player of the game because his energy in the first half was tremendous. The way he got in there, blocked shots — again, like you said, early we had 12 blocked shots.
He had a big one for us tonight. He hadn’t been getting a lot of minutes, been mainly playing on our scout team.
So I thought about coming into the game, that I wanted to give him a chance to get some minutes, and you never know what can happen in it a tournament. The team probably was preparing a little bit more for other guys since he wasn’t in the rotation. But fortunately, he came out, made a three, was really involved, great energy. So we’re going to need some more of that energy on tomorrow night.