BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — — When Missouri plays at Alabama on Saturday night, the Tigers will be making their first trip to Tuscaloosa as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Missouri’s only other visit to Tuscaloosa came on March 18, 1996, when the Crimson Tide ended the Tigers’ season with a 72-49 victory in the second round of the Postseason NIT.
Of course, there’s reason to believe this trip will end differently, especially considering the 21-point walloping Missouri laid on Alabama on Jan. 18 at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers, 19-7 and 7-6 in the SEC, are seeking their sixth straight 20-win season against a Tide team that made only four field goals and managed only 17 in the second half of last month’s loss.
“Defensively, their zone really caused some problems,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “We had a really tough time manufacturing offense in the second half.”
Here are a few keys for Missouri tonight:
1. Contain Releford again
Missouri did a fantastic job against Alabama senior Trevor Releford in the game in Columbia.
Releford, a Bishop Miege graduate and former All-Metro player of the year, scored a season-low 10 points on four-of-16 shooting. He only hit one of six three-point tries and finished with two assists and two turnovers before fouling out.
It’s unrealistic to think that Releford, who averages 19.0 points per game, will struggle as much in the rematch.
“We’ll do our best,” junior Jabari Brown said. “He missed some shots he normally makes in that game, so it wasn’t all us. Good players have off nights, but we’re going to do our best and make sure we’ve got at least two people in his area to try and discourage him.”
Every team focuses on Releford defensively, but he’s still managed to shoot a robust 50.5 percent from the field, which is the best percentage among SEC guards, and 40.3 percent from long range.
“It is extremely impressive,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “He goes into every game and everybody knows that he’s the focal point of their team. … The fact that he’s still been able to put up those kind of numbers is pretty amazing and a true testament to him and his due diligence and how good a player he is.”
2. Don’t be overconfident
While the Tigers made easy work of the Crimson Tide in the earlier meeting, it’s worth noting that it was a one-point game — 31-30 — at halftime.
Alabama plays better at home, where Grant’s squad is 10-4 this season. The Tide is 0-12 in road and neutral-site games.
Alabama beat Texas Tech at home and played Wichita State within five points, 72-67.
The Tide also took down LSU and Mississippi — teams that beat Missouri this season — at Coleman Coliseum and played No. 2 Florida close, dropping a 68-62 decision.
It would be a mistake for the Tigers to assume its 68-47 win more than a month ago means anything now.
An overconfident Missouri bunch is likely to limp home with a loss and another pockmark on its NCAA Tournament resume.
3. Avoid live-ball turnovers
Against Alabama this season, road and neutral-site opponents boast a 13.7-12.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, but the Crimson Tide defense permits only a 10.3-13.3 assist-to-turnover ratio in home games.
Missouri can’t afford to turn the ball over in play and allow Alabama to pick up cheap transition points, which has been a hallmark of the stark contrast between the Tide’s play at home compared to the road.
Alabama’s splits are staggering too.
The Tide average a 9.3-13.3 assist-to-turnover ratio away from Coleman Coliseum, but boast a 12.4-11.1 assist-to-turnover ratio at home.