We should pretend every game is the NIT, as Chasson Randle’s corner three two minutes in are the first points of the game. Credit goes not only to Randle, of course, but the Stanford defense, which has looked ferocious in shutting down Alabama. The Cardinal are jumping out of the gym to get to the volleyballed rebounds, and playing with a defensive intensity I haven’t seen since perhaps this time last year. Maybe they really like the extra few weeks of practice that come with NIT advancement? Or maybe we were just tired and are doing better with a little rest and our finals out of the way? At any rate, Alabama has come back to score six straight for a 6-3 lead, so I’ll stop hypothesizing now. Powell got called for a travel on one end and was the offender on an and-one on the other end – calls that probably wouldn’t have broken that way at Maples.
Powell loses a bounce pass out of bounds for Stanford turnover No. 3, and then picks up a charge, good for his second foul. Powell rolls his eyes en route to the bench, as he’ll now sit a long while with two first-half fouls. Stanford trails 8-3 five minutes in. Alabama native Gabe Harris then gets called for fouling on a missed three, and Alabama swishes all three free throws to go up 11-6. None of these calls – the two against Powell, the foul against Harris and now a travel on Rosco Allen – are wrong per se, but they’re all 50/50 whistles that have gone Alabama’s way. Guess that’s the nature of playing on the road. Moments later, it’s another Stanford foul for taking a swipe after an Alabama defensive rebound, which often wouldn’t get called either. The spurt in play ends, appropriately enough, with the Cardinal called for a foul when they were trying to trap an offensive rebounder, a sequence that looked pretty clean to me. The Tide leads, 11-8.
Struggles against the press
Okay, it took a moment to emerge, but here’s your first-half headline. Stanford has five turnovers in the first ten minutes, per the stat sheet, and Alabama has nine of their 16 points off those turnovers, as they have pushed their lead to 16-8. My kingdom for a true point guard. Alabama is also taking advantage of Stanford’s poor ball movement, doubling and trapping as the ball gets passed around, and ripping the rock out of Josh Huestis’ arms for their efforts.
Stanford trailed 20-12 when Dwight Powell, two fouls and all, checked back in. Now it’s Stanford getting the inexplicable whistles, like the officials looked up, saw Alabama was in the bonus and needed to even things out. Not an impressive performance from this zebra crew, but hey, we’ll take it now. On replay, Alabama’s Moussa Gueye got Dwight Powell in the face with an unintentional elbow while jostling for position, so that is a call that had to be made, mea culpa. Still, Powell draws so many fouls on opponents that his absence hurts Stanford’s ability to get the opponent in foul trouble, but it’s a new game now with him back. Alas Alabama still leads 27-19 and Powell will re-sit the final four minutes of the half.
Parole Tide. Okay, just wanted to say that after Alabama football had to kick out four players for credit-card fraud and second-degree robbery a month ago. Huestis gooses a point-blank layup, but makes two free throws for his troubles. Still, he’s 0-of-4 today and 0-of-3 deep with two turnovers offsetting his assist and his block. He’s been in a month-long shooting slump, it seems. 32-21 Alabama with 1:21 left in the half, their biggest lead thus far, so a Robbie Lemons three to cut into that margin was most timely. Stanford will also get the last possession of the half thanks to the quick shot, but an Alabama O board negates that possibility. The Tide have a 14-4 lead in the paint and that nearly mirrors their overall lead, 32-24 at the half. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Stanford is just 3-of-15 on twos.
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