Tide rolling with defense

Last week coach Antony Grant was basking in the glow of a home upset of No. 14 Kentucky. (AP photo)

Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.

It's taken more than a year for Alabama coach Anthony Grant's message to sink into the heads of his players.

"We understand we have to defend to have a chance to win SEC games," Grant said. "So far, we've done a pretty good job at it."

In his second year at Alabama, Grant has Alabama playing the best defense of any team in the Southeastern Conference. It's a big reason why the Crimson Tide (12-7, 4-1 SEC) sit alone in first place in a winnable SEC West.

Alabama currently ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense (57.3 ppg), field-goal percentage defense (36 percent) and steals (9.6).

For Grant, changing Alabama's mindset to becoming a better defensive team wasn't easy. Mark Gottfried tried and failed, which is why the former Alabama coach is currently an SEC Network color analyst.

When Alabama fired Gottfried two years ago, it turned to Grant, who had success in his previous two seasons as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth. After a rocky first season, Alabama is starting to see results under the former Florida assistant. Grant has had to suspend leading scorer JaMychal Green twice the past two seasons for violating team rules. But Green has responded by fulfilling his promise as a top McDonald's All-American recruit. The junior center ranks eighth in the SEC in scoring (15.5 ppg) and seventh in rebounding (7.6 rpg).

While Green has been tough on the boards, Grant said his team needs to do a better job rebounding as a whole to continue to develop. Last week, Alabama was out-rebounded 36-29 by Auburn. Auburn converted 13 offensive rebounds against Alabama into 12 second-chance points.

"One of the things we've stressed for our guys is to work on rebounding," Grant said. "To me, defense and rebounding go hand-in-hand. You can't say you are doing a really good job defensively if you are giving up second shots and opportunities to get baskets or get to the free-throw line."

Alabama still held on to beat Auburn 68-58 and cap an exciting week of basketball that included a home upset of No. 14 Kentucky. But Grant said it's too early at this point to consider his team SEC West favorites.

"There is still the bulk of the season left ahead for us," Grant said.

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