Alabama Ends 2023 With A Dominant Victory; Oats 100th Win
The Alabama Crimson Tide men's basketball team destroyed the Liberty Flames 101-56 to cap off their final game of the 2023 calendar year. The Crimson Tide scorched the three-point line, sinking 14 threes. Transfer Latrell Wrightsell Jr. led Alabama in scoring with 19 points, going 5 for 7 from three-point range. Five additional Crimson Tide players ended with double digits, including Grant Nelson (12), Mark Sears (16), Rylan Griffen (10), Aaron Estrada (13 points and 10 rebounds), and rookie Sam Walters (10).
As the football team prepares for the college football playoffs this Monday, there was a lively crowd at Legacy Arena, most of whom were wearing crimson. Fans were very enthused about the contest.
Liberty had a 10-3 record going into this game. The Flames finished in the second round of the NIT Tournament last season. This season, they were predicted to win the Conference USA championship.
The game got as close as five points early in the first half before Alabama went on a 13-point scoring surge and never looked back. Wrightsell was hitting from all over the floor. Although most players hesitated to take shots early in the season, head coach Nate Oats has been pressuring his team to shoot when the opportunity is provided.
The fans saw no reluctance from anyone wearing white and crimson today as they made nine three-pointers in the first half, four of which came from Wrightsell.
"Coach believes in me and gives me confidence," Wrightsell on his confidence going into conference play. "He never tells me to pass up an open three and I've been getting yelled at in practice for passing up open threes a lot. So it's just coming in confidently and being able to catch it and shoot it and not passing up open opportunities."
Alabama's defense was excellent; they kept Liberty to 33% from the field, Nelson blocked four Flames shots, forced nine turnovers, and their hands were busy collecting eight steals.
Before this game, the Crimson Tide had a difficult run of games. Out of their last four games, Alabama has won one. The Crimson Tide's games against #4 Purdue, #8 Creighton, and the nation's top-ranked team, Arizona, all resulted in close losses for Alabama that very well might have been victories.
One game at a time, the Crimson Tide keeps getting better. Even though Alabama is the best offensive team in the country, Oats believes that defense should be the core of this team's identity. Considering the depth they brought in this season and the veterans they had from last year's squad, the Tide have not been as effective on that end of the court as much as they had expected.
"Defensively we are not where we need to be yet," Oats said. "Offensively, we're there obviously it helps when you make shots but we got to continue to work on the defensive side."
However, the defense has improved as they held Liberty to 56 points and forced multiple turnovers and missed attempts.
Aaron Estrada gave the Crimson Tide their first double-double of the year. Two assists separated the 6-foot-3 graduate transfer from Hofstra from a triple-double.
Oats earned his 100th career victory. Oats joined Alabama in 2019 and has since won the SEC Coach of the Year award in 2021, several SEC regular season championships, two SEC tournament championships, two Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament, a number one overall seed in the tournament (2022-23), and produced lottery picks in the NBA draft, including number two overall Brandon Miller.
"It feels good. I love it down here and the family loves it here and I like to be here a long time," Oats on getting career win 100. "In this business, a lot of coaches don't get the opportunity to stay long enough to get 100. They want to keep me around here long enough to get 100 hopefully we can 200, 300, and keep it moving. Obviously, you got to get some really good players and we got some really good ones."
Midway through the 2022–2023 season, Oats was granted a contract extension that would put him in command of the Crimson Tide basketball team until 2029.
This was Alabama's final non-conference game before they enter into SEC play and get ready to take on a formidable Vanderbilt team in Nashville the following Saturday.
Alabama vs Liberty
Gallery Credit: SEC Media