DÉJÀ VU: Alabama Blows Open a Tight Game and Drops Another 109 Points on LSU

Will Baker, LSU
Will Baker's 24 points led LSU against Alabama on Saturday but the Tigers succumbed to another Tide surge and lost. PHOTO BY MICHAEL BACIGALUPI

One day LSU will be able to beat Alabama in basketball again.

That day, though it looked quite possible for slightly more than 30 minutes on Saturday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, lies somewhere in the future.

This season it’s obvious LSU will have to score at least 110 points in a game to beat the Crimson Tide.

For the second time this season, the second time in two weeks, Alabama’s lightning-fast, bombs away offense, blew open a tight, competitive game with a bludgeoning surge and scored 109 points.

When the high-tide surge subsided on Saturday in Baton Rouge, Alabama had used a six-minute and 14 second span of the second half to drown LSU with a 28-9 run, overcome a 73-72 LSU lead with 9:32 left in the game, and go up 100-82 with 3:18 to play.

Mark Sears scored 23 points and No. 16 Alabama made a few key deep shots to break open a tight game in the final nine minutes of a 109-92 victory over LSU on Saturday.

Latrell Wrightsell Jr. had a season-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Alabama (17-7, 9-2 SEC).

Will Baker scored 24 points and Jalen Cook 20 for LSU (12-11, 4-6 SEC), which has lost six of eight. Tyrell Ward added 15 points for the Tigers, who outscored the Crimson Tide 44-38 inside but could not keep pace with Alabama’s perimeter shooting.

Alabama scored more than 100 points for the seventh time this season.

Two weeks ago at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, LSU trailed Bama by six points at halftime, hung tight for a few minutes in the second half, then got blitzkrieged by a three-point barrage as Alabama started turning LSU turnovers and quick shots into transition kickouts that saw the Crimson Tide make 10-of-11 shots inside the first 12 seconds of the shot clock over a 10-minute span, including five consecutive made 3-pointers.

That Alabama surge two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa literally drowned LSU.

Saturday in Baton Rouge, LSU trailed Bama by only three points at halftime, 49-46, mainly because LSU was not turning the ball over with only five first-half turnovers and because Baker was putting on his second consecutive Saturday morning SEC scoring matinee, abusing Bama’s Graham Nelson in the paint and beyond as he poured in 22 first-half points. LSU was playing smart offense and Baker was torching the Tide.

Bama still fired 3-pointers in the first half, but LSU contested them well, holding the Tide to nine makes in 23 long-range attempts during the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Baker worked the paint and LSU held 24-14 advantage in scoring over Alabama.

Early in the second half, it seemed like Alabama’s Tide was rising as the half began. Bama started the half quickly, after Bama coach Nate Oates decided it was better to guard Baker with more physical players, Nick Pringle in place of Nelson, and collapse with one or two help side players at the same time when Baker touched the ball inside the paint, in effect giving LSU the 3-point attempt if Baker could kick it out.

He couldn’t. Or didn’t. Not often.

“I think they made some adjustments,” Baker said.

“They knew I might drive, so they dug at the ball more. I don’t know how many times they tried to double team, but they definitely made some adjustments.”

The net effect was Oates neutralized LSU’s offense. Baker scored only two points in the second half, sinking only a pair of free throws with 3:06 remaining to make it 100-84 Alabama.

Five minutes and 22 seconds into the half, Alabama appeared to be running away from LSU, albeit more deliberately in this game than it did two weeks ago, as the Crimson Tide went up by 12, 64-52 with 14:38 to go in the game.

But LSU then went on a 21-8 run over the next five minutes and led the Tide, 73-72, when Cook hit a jumper with 9:32 to go in the game.

“Congratulations to Alabama, they have a really good basketball team,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.

“They played the right way, really moved the ball and shared offensively. I thought we played really well for 32 minutes. We followed the plan of attack offensively. It was a big stretch overall. I will talk about the threes, I know they (Alabama) made 18 and took a lot. When I look at the box and the difference in the game, the 19 offensive rebounds led to 28 points. Those 50/50 plays, obviously a lot of long rebounds on threes that they made and turned them into points. They really punished us on the turnovers. We had 12 and they turned those 12 turnovers into 23 points. Credit to them, they really shared the ball well. We were not able to turn them over at all. Those last eight minutes just took off and left us,” McMahon said.

Oates said he thought LSU had a strong offensive plan that attacked the Crimson Tide’s weaknesses in the first half before they were able to make some adjustments for the second half.

“It’s a big road win that we needed to get if we’re going to stay in the hunt to win the league,” Oates said.

“I thought LSU came ready to go. We had no answer for (Will) Baker in the first half, then they made the run – went up one or two there in the second half with just under 10 to go if I remember right. . . .I thought LSU did a really good job being ready to go on their offensive end, kind of attacking some weaknesses on us. I thought we made some decent adjustments; a guard started helping our bigs a little bit more on Baker, turning him over a little bit more.”

LSU had life in the second half after Bama failed to put them away.

But LSU needed more than a strap-on life preserver to survive what Bama unleashed on it over the next five-plus minutes.

The Tide’s 28-9 run to put them up 100-82 commenced at that moment. Alabama, which made 18 3-pointers in 44 attempts for the game, hit five 3’s during the surge – two by Wrightsell, one by Estrada, one by Ryland Griffen and one by Sears.

“The way we played, we had a barrage of three’s open it up and that was kind of it,” Oates said.

LSU shot 55 percent from the field for the game and made seven three pointers itself. But LSU could not overcome being outscored 54-21 from beyond the arc when it also gave up another 51 points to Alabama in second-chance points (28) and points off turnovers (23), despite only turning the ball over 12 times.

LSU’s defense was stronger against Alabama in Baton Rouge in Tuscaloosa but McMahon said he thought the big difference on Saturday was giving up too many second-chance points again. In the rematch against Texas A&M last month, LSU experienced the same problem.

“Well, I thought in the first half, I think they shot 43% from the field. We did a much better job defending their two-point shots in the first half, but they hit nine three’s and then we fouled a three-point shooter, so essentially, 10 made three’s,” McMahon said.

“So, you go in at the half, I think we missed two free throws. It could’ve been 49-48. The numbers just didn’t add up. We were dominating the paint; we were getting layup after layup, but they were getting three’s. So, we come out to start the second half, I thought on our defensive end, we were much better. I think they started the second half three-of-12 from behind the three-point line. I thought we were really contesting, forcing some tougher shots. We didn’t capitalize by securing the defensive rebound on all of those, and they made us pay for that on second opportunities. Then, I do think they did a nice job adjusting. They changed the matchup on (Will) Baker in the post, they swarmed him when he put the ball on the floor, and we were unable to make the right plays some there on offense in the second half.”

LSU returns to SEC play on Tuesday night at Florida.

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Todd Horne

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