With Tuesday night’s win over the Missouri Tigers, Nate Oats and the Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball team improved to a perfect 4-0 in SEC play.
Oats and the Tide are now on a six-game winning streak and have a 12-5 record overall and one of the most impressive resumes in college basketball.
Tuesday night’s matchup was back and forth until Alabama went on a massive run in the second half to pull away from the Tigers, winning 93-75 from inside Coleman Coliseum.
Following the win, Coach Oats would speak to the media about his team’s performance. Here is everything Coach Oats had to say:
“Before I start talking about the game, I just want to address the situation at the under-8 media timeout, the scuffle that happened next to our bench. I’ve known Coach (Dennis) Gates for a long time. I was a high school coach. He was one of the best recruiters in the country. I have all the respect in the world for the job he’s done as an assistant and a head coach before he got to Missouri, as a head coach here. He had one of the best first years in the SEC since I’ve been here in a long time. So it is no disrespect to him or his program. I apologized to both Coach Gates and Aiden Shaw. Aiden seems like a great kid and it’s an unfortunate situation, but I apologized to both of them. I wanted to address that before we got going.
“The second thing I want to say is I thought, for the weather out there tonight, I thought our home crowd was unbelievable. So I want to thank the students publicly. I think we had almost 3,000 students in there. We needed them. They got loud when we needed it. For a time when everybody could have an excuse to stay in with the weather, they chose to come out and support us. That means a lot to us. It means a lot to our players. It means a lot to the program. So I want to make sure I thank them.
“But getting to the actual game, Missouri gave us everything we could handle. I thought the way they closed the first half was great on their part and it wasn’t very good on our part. We had too many turnovers. We didn’t guard. We’ve had issues with our starts to games. I didn’t think our start was great tonight. I don’t think we got a stop until the last possession of the first four minutes before the under-16 media timeout. Then to close the half, they went on a big run – it was 12-3, if I remember right – in the last four minutes. And then the start of the second half, we were a little better.
“But I did think the one issue that we’ve had major problems with this year, how we play at the under-12 and under-8 of the second half, we were significantly better. So we’ve had issues, we’ve had leads in four of our five losses, leads of six points or more, in the second half. So I thought we did a good job closing this thing. You kind of look at some of the guys that were on the floor – Rylan (Griffen) obviously went on that 3-point barrage, which was huge. But I thought he’s been one of our best defenders all year.
“Aaron (Estrada) has been one of our best defenders. (Latrell Wrightsell) has been one of our best perimeter defenders. And then Grant (Nelson) – and then Nick (Pringle) was playing well tonight. He ended up with 10 points and three rebounds, so statistically, it didn’t look like great, but he played a lot of minutes, stayed out of foul trouble. For him to play 27 minutes and only have one foul I thought was great. He impacted shots at the rim and did a good job for us. That group that closed the game did a really good job.
“Mark (Sears) tweaked his ankle in the first half. He fought through it, made some buckets for us early in the second half. We tried to get him a little rest there at the under-8 in the second half, and then we kind of went on a run and just kept him out, try to rest his ankle and make sure he’s ready to go Saturday at Tennessee.”
On what was behind the chippiness of the game
“I think it’s a program with a lot of pride. I mean, they were good last year. They came in 0-3. They’re probably better than 0-3. They’re fighting, scrapping, clawing with players that go there. To start 0-4, Coach Cates is used to winning. I’m sure there was an edge about them or that they needed a win. But we’re trying to win the league, and we needed a win. You can’t win the league if you don’t protect your home court.
“So I think the combination of us understanding we’ve got to protect our home court. It’s a must-win game for us if we’re going to try to win this league, and they have a lot of pride over there and they weren’t trying to start 0-4. Other than that, there’s nothing between the programs. I actually really respect Dennis and think he does a great job. I don’t think any of our players had any past history with any of their guys. I just think it was two teams playing hard and understanding it’s a big one either way.”
On Rylan Griffen's second-half performance
“We kind of rested him there at the beginning and then he came off the bench after we rested him. I kind of went over to him on the bench like, ‘Man, we’re going need you to win this game. You’ve got to get locked in.’ And he’s always good. He had a defensive mistake early in the half, and maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We’ve got the iPads at the timeout. He gave up a three. I think he sat down, got his mind right.
“He’s a kid who sometimes just needs to be left alone for a minute to get his mind right. And shoot, he came in and was ready to go. That shooting barrage is probably the best shooting barrage I’ve seen out of anybody on our team this year. I know Sears has had a few, Estrada in Game 1 was really good in the first half. But that was good as I’ve seen in a while around here.”
On if this Alabama team is playing with a chip on its shoulder
“I think the five losses kind of got us. Nobody was really paying attention to us, which is great. They shouldn’t be. I mean, we don’t have enough quality wins for anybody nationally to pay attention to us. But I think after being No. 1 in the country last year – we’ve got nine new players. I think a lot of these guys came in with the expectation we’re going to be a top-five, top-10 team, and we’re not. And we don’t deserve to be. Like we’ve got to rattle off a bunch of wins before anybody gives us any kind of respect. So I think they’re fighting for some respect nationally.
“But there’s nothing really – and even South Carolina, Coach (Lamont) Paris is a great guy. I’ve known him for a long time. There’s zero animosity or anything. I think guys playing hard. And the South Carolina guys, I know they felt a little disrespected by the pick in the league, and I would too, if I was them. They’ve got really good players and they’re going to finish better than 14th, in my opinion. So I just think it’s two teams in both games, guys that are really going after it.
“We’ve got to do a better job. Grant’s technical, I mean that’s not even Grant. If you know Grant, he’s not a trash talker. He’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet in your life. I think the games just get raised. I suppose the intensity levels get raised. I think it’s great. We’ve just got to, from the head coach down, we’ve got to maintain our composure when the intensity gets raised.”
On if Grant Nelson's early three was big for confidence
“I think it was good. The ball moved well, his feet were took, he took it, it was all net. He went 4-of-6 from the field, 4-of-4 at the free-throw line. He was a kid that was shooting almost 95 percent at the free-throw line and kind of went through a little struggle there at the line. Maybe that three helped him get his confidence. He spends a lot of time in the gym, a lot, so we expect him to play well. But we’ve been on him to be better at some of the other stuff where he can impact the game.
“Rebounding, he led the team in rebounds. Him and Aaron both had eight. He was two rebounds away from a double-double. I think he’s starting to do more of that, attack the rim. If he attacks the rim, gets to the free-throw line, he doesn’t miss many at the free-throw line. So I was happy to see it drop and it might have got his confidence going a little bit. But I think you’re going to see him attacking the rim a lot more and not shooting as many threes maybe what he had the past.”
On how Aaron Estrada handling the ball makes a difference
“A big difference. Like we need him playing like that. I mean, he’s capable of being one of the best guards in our league. I think he’s a guy that’s going to push triple-double fairly frequently. I mean, he was on pace – he was one assist away from being on pace at the half. I know he had, I think, seven, six and four at the half. He didn’t end up with any assists in the second half, but you look at him – four assists, two turnovers.
“Sears had a good night – six assists, three turnovers – both 2-1. Rylan – three assists, one turnover. You kind of look at our guards and how they were moving it, they did a better job. Grant with three assists, one turnover. So kind of our main handlers were positive assist-to-ratio. We need that more often. We still had way too many turnovers with 13, but it was a little better there in the second half, particularly when we went on our run.”
On what it says about the team that they can close a game out without Mark Sears
“I think it shows people we’ve got a lot of depth. I mean, we’ve got one of the deepest backcourts in the country when you got a guy like Trelly coming off the bench, who could start just about anywhere and plays his role great and dives into his role. You’re able to put him out there for any of those three starting guards and not really lose much.
“So I think Estrada stepped up. We needed him to be great late in the game. I think he needed to get confidence going, playing great in late-game situations. I thought he was. Shoot, Rylan, we had three really good guards in there. Now, hopefully, can get his angle right because he is the leading scorer in the league and we’d love to have him at Tennessee because we need everything we can get to win up at that place. That’s not an easy place to play.”
On Sears' second-half three that sparked the run
“We needed we needed a spark. He’s a guy that’s made big shots for us all year. For him to suck it up and play with a sprained ankle and try to tough it out, I thought showed a lot. I think that one came from – did Grant have it in the post and kick it out, if I remember right – that was that was big. We needed the ball to be moving. We needed guys to start making some shots. I think he starts doing that, it gives some confidence to our team. So that was a big shot to help us kind of start to go on a run to open that game up a little bit.”
On the 35-23 rebounding advantage over Missouri
“We thought we could out-rebound them on the offensive glass. We weren’t great early. Estrada had four of our six O boards in the first half. We needed some other guys to get in there with him. In the second half, it was a lot better. We had five O boards in the second half, and Aaron didn’t have any of them. Guys like Grant, Nick, Rylan got in there and got some. I think we can be a great rebounding team if we put our mind to it, but we’ve got to have everybody rebound it, both sides.
“So yeah, that was definitely a point of emphasis going into this game, like it’ll be at Tennessee. I mean, if you can’t rebound against Tennessee, you’re not going to be able to beat them. So we need some. Mississippi State, a super tough team. I thought we did a pretty good job on the glass there. So we’ve had some games here in conference where we’ve done a decent job rebounding the ball.”
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