The first meeting between the University of Alabama and Missouri found the Crimson Tide facing a floundering opponent. The rematch won’t be the same.
Missouri was in the midst of a 13-game losing streak when Alabama beat the Tigers 68-56 on Jan. 18. Now the Tigers have won two of their last three games, both of which have come at home.
“(Missouri) was) sputtering there for a while,” head coach Avery Johnson said. “They lost a lot of close games early in the season, but had a breakthrough win at home and next thing you know have won two in a row at home.”
The Tigers have Alabama’s attention as it tries to recover from last Saturday’s 58-67 loss against Kentucky. The Crimson Tide’s offensive game plan may not change from its first game against Missouri, but there’s more to account for on defense.
Guard Terrence Phillips has moved into the starting lineup for Missouri after coming off the bench earlier this season. He scored a game-high 16 points and made three 3-pointers in the first game, and has taken on a more consistent role for the Tigers since then.
“Terrence Phillips, he’s the head of the snake,” guard Corban Collins said. “We’re going to have to control him. He does a lot for them, not just scoring but creating opportunities for teammates.”
Johnson said he’s also been impressed with guard K.J. Walton and forward Kevin Puryear as he looks at Missouri on film. Walton has scored in double figures in four of the last five games, while Puryear scored 15 and 13 points in wins against Arkansas and Vanderbilt. They combined for just six points in their first game against Alabama.
“The team I’ve scouted and watched play several times since we’ve played them is just a much different team,” Johnson said.
Alabama has also made some changes in its practice routine recently. After going 9 of 26 from the free-throw line against Kentucky, Johnson found new ways to work free throws into practice: Whether the players are working on individual drills or defense or something else, they now head to the free throw line every 10 minutes. Before, the team had practiced free throws at the end of practice.
“It used to feel like practice was over when we were shooting free throws,” Collins said. “Now it’s part of our practice.”
Shooting free throws at the end of practice led to players talking amongst themselves or joking around as things finished up. The new approach makes things more serious, and helps simulate the pressure that players might find in games.
“The main thing is, I don’t want it to get so psychological that it just freaks guys out when they go to the line,” Johnson said. “They are all capable of making free throws. It just depends on what kind of mind-set they’re in.”
Free throws were a problem in Alabama’s first game against Missouri, when the Crimson Tide went 13 of 28 at the line. Players are hoping to see something different on Wednesday. They know they can expect something different from the Tigers.
“They’re a totally different team than when we played them here,” Collins said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, especially on the offensive end. They’re getting a lot of scoring from guys that weren’t necessarily contributing when we played them the first time. It’s a totally different team.”