After beating the nation’s No. 1 team for a second time this season, Alabama proved it belongs among college basketball’s best. The Crimson Tide also showed once again that it can survive when its biggest star isn’t clicking.
Two weeks after knocking off previously top-ranked North Carolina, No. 8 Alabama became just the second team in the history of the Associated Press poll to beat two No. 1 teams in the same season, taking down Houston, 71-65, on the road Saturday. Both victories came without much help from five-star freshman Brandon Miller, who shot a combined 4-for-29, including 2-for-13 from deep over the two outings.
As far as Nate Oats is concerned, that’s perfectly fine.
“We’ve got a lot of players,” Oats said following Saturday’s win. “Obviously, Brandon’s talented; he’s really good. He’s a 6-9 guard that can do a lot. But for a freshman that hasn’t played college basketball before, you can’t expect him to be Superman every night out. We’ve got to get production from lots of guys.”
Miller recorded a season-low 8 points and five rebounds Saturday, shooting 0-for-8 from the floor while failing to get on the board until making a free throw with 7:33 remaining in the second half. However, on an afternoon when nothing seemed to be going right for the Crimson Tide’s superhero, two other freshmen swooped in to save the day.
Noah Clowney recorded his first career double-double, leading Alabama with 16 points and 11 rebounds while also tallying a pair of blocks. Meanwhile, Jaden Bradley came off the bench to score 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting to go with five rebounds and a team-high four assists.
Not bad for a pair of newcomers playing on the road against the nation’s top team.
“I feel like it’s basketball,” Clowney said. “No matter how old, how young, what level, it’s just basketball.”
Clowney came up big for Alabama early, scoring the Crimson Tide’s first 5 points, including a 3 on the game’s opening possession. The 6-foot-10 forward is beginning to find his shooting touch, recording 38 points on 15 of 29 shooting while knocking down 7 of 18 attempts from beyond the arc over his last two games.
“Teams may decide they can’t sag off him anymore,” Oats said. “He’s making shots, hitting 3s. He was all over the glass.”
Bradley did most of his damage after the break, recording 7 points and four rebounds while shooting 3 of 5 in the second half. The 6-foot-3 guard didn’t commit a turnover over 25 minutes and was influential in Alabama’s second-half run as the Crimson Tide erased a 15-point deficit.
Like Miller, Bradley came to the Crimson Tide as one of the top players in the nation, ranking No. 31 overall in this year’s class. However, until recently, he’s yet to receive the same hype as his five-star teammate.
“He was a highly-rated point guard because he’s a winner and he knows how to play,” Oats said. “He’s not the best shooter, but he’s working hard on it. We’re encouraging him to keep shooting. He’s not the quickest guy, but he’s got enough quickness to get where he needs to get on the court.
“But he makes winning plays. Defensively, offensively, he’s smart, got a high IQ. He wants to get his teammates involve, you see him spraying out [passes]. He missed some open 3s that he got us tonight, too. But he’s a winner, and he showed it.”
Bradley was also solid in Alabama’s win over North Carolina, scoring 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting while chipping in three rebounds and two assists. He has now recorded double-digit scoring in three of Alabama’s four games against ranked opposition this season, shooting a combined 13 of 25 (52%) from the floor over that span.
“I don’t think the big game affects him,” Oats said. “It might make him better to be honest with you. … He’s a great kid. He just kind of plays with the minutes you give him. And shoot, when we need him to play 25 minutes, he’s ready to play 25 minutes. He was great tonight.”
Despite Miller’s struggles against Houston and North Carolina, Oats isn’t worried about his star forward. Miller came into the game averaging a team-high 19.1 points per game, the most by any freshman in the country and No. 42 overall. He was also the only freshman in the nation ranking in the top 50 in points per game (No. 42) and rebounds per game (No. 50).
Saturday, Oats said he challenged Miller at halftime, reminding him that he can provide more than just scoring. The freshman responded by pulling down three key rebounds while making 8 of 9 free-throw attempts, including all six in the game’s final minute. Despite his struggles on the offensive end, Miller’s presence also drew defenders away from his teammates, creating opportunities for Bradley and Clowney to capitalize.
“We’re going to use Brandon as a screener sometimes. We’re going to take him off-screen. He’s great that way. He’s going to be playing in the NBA next year even if he has an 0-for-8 game. His talent level’s so high.”
Following Saturday’s win, Alabama (8-1) will host Memphis (8-2) on Tuesday inside Coleman Coliseum.
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