By Stan J. Griffin: February 4, 2016

Although it will soon be a whole new, and possibly scary world for the 17 brand new members of the University of Alabama football Class of 2016, a class that was once again hailed as the nation's best on Wednesday, eight other members of Wednesday's talent-rich class already have a head start on life in Tuscaloosa and getting acclimated to the Crimson Tide system.
Alabama's big National Signing Day group included the signings of eight prospects who enrolled in January at UA, and, therefore, will be eligible to participate in spring practice early this semester.
Those include offensive lineman Charles Baldwin of Windsor, Connecticut, linebacker Christian Bell of Hoover, tight end Miller Forristall of Cartersville, Ga., quarterback Jalen Hurts of Channelview, Texas, linebacker Shawn Jennings of Dadeville, offensive lineman Chris Owens of Arlington, Texas, wide receiver T.J. Simmons of Pinson and offensive lineman Jonah Williams of Folsom, California.
One of those early enrollees, Bell, who played for Josh Niblett at the prep football powerhouse that is Hoover High School, actually committed to the Tide in April of 2014, but was requested by UA to grayshirt, meaning that he did not become part of Alabama's scholarship count until this year.
Grayshirts are not immediately permitted to enroll as full-time students or receive scholarship benefits or be a part of the program in any official capacity, including practices.
Bell said the grayshirt process ultimately became a positive experience for him.
"I learned a lot mentally, and physically on my body," he said. "I became mentally strong and I know I got a lot faster since last year. (Some members of the UA program) were telling me what I needed to work on and I had a trainer that I would go to in the morning and I was coaching a Little League team."

By Stan J. Griffin: February 1, 2016

Much like Avery Johnson with the University of Alabama basketball team, Ben Howland is in his first year of leading the Mississippi State hoops program, while also facing a similar rebuilding process that Johnson is encountering with the Crimson Tide.
Under Howland, a veteran coach whose impressive resume includes taking tradition-rich UCLA to back-to-back Final Fours in 2007 and 2008, the Bulldogs have struggled thus far to a 9-11 overall record, including a 2-6 mark in Southeastern Conference play that matches the Tide's conference record.
Those two rebuilding programs square off Tuesday night in Starkville as Johnson's Crimson Tide team (11-9 overall) will battle the Bulldogs in Humphrey Coliseum.
The game is set for an 8 p.m tip and will be televised by SEC Network.
Johnson, whose team is coming off a physical 78-64 loss at South Carolina on Saturday, a foul-plagued effort by his team which saw four of his players disqualified due to fouls, said Monday that he hopes his team is ready to rebound from the loss with another road challenge.
"Ready to get back on the court and we had a really good practice today and we get back on the road tomorrow," he said. "We're playing against a team that's pretty dangerous, and they've got a lot of guys that can handle the basketball with (freshman guard Quinndary) Witherspoon, (freshman guard Malik) Newman and (senior guard Craig) Sword. They can all handle the ball and make 3s, they can get inside your defense and they have a couple of big guys that can shoot the ball for three. So it puts your defense in a bind, and we've got to play well and sustain more of our effort for a longer period of time, handle some of the what I call down cycles of the game better as we continue to go through this maturation process. We're always excited to strap it up today in practice and then we'll be ready to play tomorrow."

By Stan J. Griffin: January 29, 2016

For a brief couple of seconds Thursday night, it appeared that University of Alabama sophomore guard Karyla Middlebrook had found sweet redemption against No. 10 Texas A&M in a loud and electric Foster Auditorium.
With three seconds left in a riveting Southeastern Conference affair, Middlebrook appeared to hit a jumper to give the Tide a big upset win over Gary Blair's Aggies after having having come up short on a pair of big free throws about 20 seconds earlier.
Unfortunately for Alabama's point guard, the basket was waved off as she was called for a charge, drawing a loud chorus of boos from the Crimson Tide home crowd and also drawing a technical on the Crimson Tide bench. Aggie standout Courtney Walker hit a pair of technical shots and Texas A&M was able to escape with a 59-56 victory.
Alabama fell to 13-8 overall with the tough loss and 2-6 in SEC play while the Aggies improved to 15-5 overall and 5-2 in league play.
"The crowd was incredible again tonight and they're doing a great job of making Foster Auditorium the toughest home court advantage in the SEC," said Curry. "It is a tear-filled locker room that I just left and I just thought they played their hearts out tonight and i have a lot of respect for them for that. We'll learn from this and get better because of it. This program is headed in the right direction. It’s a tribute to the character in that locker room.”
Curry would not comment on the officiating regarding the final charging call, but said she instead wanted to focus on the courage of Middlebrook to take that final shot for the Crimson Tide.
The Aggies came out hot to start the contest, hitting seven of their first 10 shots and taking early leads of 10-4 and 17-6. At the end of the first 10 minutes, Texas A&M led 19-10.

By Stan J. Griffin: January 16, 2016

After letting what appeared to be an almost-certain victory over Arkansas slip away last Friday due to struggles on the beam that included three different falls, the No. 5 University of Alabama gymnastics team has the challenging of rebounding this coming weekend.
But it will not be an easy chore.
The Crimson Tide (2-2 overall and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference competition) travels to Gainesville Friday to battle the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators.
The meet is set to begin at 6 p.m. and it will be televised by SEC Network.
It is a matchup of two programs that have defined excellence relative to collegiate gymnastics, having combined to capture the last five national championships.  The Gators are the three-time defending NCAA title winners while the Crimson Tide took back-to back titles in 2011 and 2012.
Alabama and Florida have also split the last seven SEC titles, with the Crimson Tide claiming last season's conference crown.
So obviously there is much history and much tradition with the two programs, and junior Aja Sims said she is excited about Friday's showdown against the Tide's SEC rival.
"As a team we're so excited, and I'm excited to go back home (Sims hails from Orlando, Fla.)," she said. "This is my first time going home (for a college meet) since I've been here, so I'm going to have a nice crowd. We're just really excited just to get there and show them what Bama really can do. so we're pumped. I have a big crew coming, so it's going to be loud."

By Stan J. Griffin: January 23, 2016

A full and loud house at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday was treated to a riveting, back-and-forth battle between Avery Johnson's Alabama basketball team and the visiting LSU Tigers.
And with the Crimson Tide holding a lead with just over three minutes to go in the contest, it appeared that the host team might just finish up a day that began with a celebration for the 2015 national champion UA football team in style.
Unfortunately for Johnson's squad, offensive glitches in the closing moments of the game, including an empty final possession, ultimately caught up with the Tide as it fell in a 72-70 heartbreaker to Johnny Jones' Tigers.
The Crimson Tide, with another frustrating close defeat, fell to 10-8 overall and 1-5 in Southeastern Conference play while LSU, led by the 23 points of freshman phenom Ben Simmons, improved to 12-7 overall and 5-2 in SEC play.
"I'm really proud of our team tonight," said Johnson. "Maximum effort and emotionally they were into the game and they executed our game plan, but unfortunately got a couple of bad breaks there at the end, a missed free throw here and there, a little bit of poor execution when we needed it there at the end of the game, with a play that had been working for us all game, we didn't get as organized as we should have been and we'll continue to work on that. We've won our share of close games this year, and unfortunately we didn't win this one, but I'm just proud of our team. There's no surrendering in us, and we're going to get back to work tomorrow and play with a lot of energy on Tuesday (against Tennessee), especially feeding off of such a great crowd that we had tonight."
It was a matter of runs early as Alabama, down 3-0, scored five in a row to go up 5-3 before LSU tallied the next four to go up 7-5.  The Tide then scored the next four to regain the lead at 9-7.

By Stan J. Griffin: January 21, 2016

Photo by: Christopher Chase Edmunds

The University of Alabama gymnastics team is back to a normal schedule this week after testing its depth and its resiliency by winning two meets in less than 48 hours last weekend against Missouri and Auburn.
Dana Duckworth's team returns home Friday night for a big Southeastern Conference meet against the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks.
The meet is set to begin at 6 p.m. at Coleman Coliseum.
Despite the harrowing schedule that accompanied the recent two-meet weekend, Duckworth said it proved to be a very beneficial one for her fourth-ranked squad.
"I was just really proud of their attitudes toward the weekend, and the consistency in our performances," she said. "As a staff in general, I think we were most pleased with the consistency of the performances, the ability to put different people in, on floor particularly and be able to grow our depth, but also have two great performances early in the season.”
One of her gymnasts who came up particularly big against Auburn in Sunday’s Elevate the Stage meet in Birmingham was sophomore Kiana Winston, who gained her first all-around.
“Kiana has trusted our process and trusted the fact that this is a marathon, not a race, and so she has put the work in,” said Duckworth. “She has put the work in not only physically, but mentally and so where I think she’s had more growth than anything is in the maturity of her confidence and personal growth even outside the gym, so that’s what you’re seeing translate into the arena.”

By Stan J. Griffin: January 20, 2016

The University of Alabama women's basketball team, coming off a big Southeastern Conference win over Georgia on Sunday, is hoping to build off the momentum of that victory this week while also attempting to even its conference record.
But it will take a difficult assignment for Kristy Curry's team (13-5 overall, 2-3 in SEC play) to get that overall mission accomplished.
The Crimson Tide heads to Gainesville Thursday night for a battle against the No. 22/23 Florida Gators, who are 15-3 overall and 3-2 in league play, and who are also no doubt smarting from a recent home loss to Georgia.
"It's a great opportunity for us to get back on the road and improve and grow and find a way to get one," said Curry Wednesday. "We're playing a very good Florida team who are ranked in a couple of polls and they're very deep and seasoned and experienced with some great senior leadership from (guard) Carlie Needles, and we're going to have to defend and rebound at a really high level and counter that when we get stops with makes, and I think that's the difference on the road."
Junior guard/forward Ronnie Williams leads the Gators with 10.5 points per game while also leading Amanda Butler's squad in rebounding with nearly eight boards per contest.
Freshman guard/forward Eleanna Christinaki contributes 10.3 points and nearly four assists per game for Florida.
"They've improved their roster, and they've also learned from a year ago and are really an improved basketball team," said Curry. "(Butler) does a great job with her leadership and her energy, and has a new staff that's brought a lot of energy and two great assistants who are experienced. We feel great about the opportunity, and (the win over Georgia) has to give us confidence, so it's a wonderful opportunity for us to get back on track on the road."

By Stan J. Griffin: January 19, 2016

Photo by Stan J. Griffin

As a captain and an undisputed leader for the University of Alabama women's basketball team, senior Nikki Hegstetter is a constant force in the paint and on the boards, while also doing a host of things that do not always appear on stat sheets, such as taking key charges, scrapping on the floor for a loose ball and leading her team vocally and by example during games and workouts.
Her stellar work ethic also applies in the classroom and in the community, and then some.
Hegstetter, the native of Kennesaw, Ga., was selected as one of the 30 NCAA Division I women’s basketball student-athletes in the running for the 2016 Senior CLASS Award.

By Stan J. Griffin: January 18, 2016

For the Alabama and Auburn basketball teams, it is no doubt a tale of different moods as they get set for their first grudge match of the season Tuesday.
For Avery Johnson's Crimson Tide, it is a matter of rebounding from a frustrating 71-63 loss at Vanderbilt Saturday, a game that the Alabama players and coaches probably felt they could have won with respectable free throw shooting (The Tide made 7 of 20 from the line) and better second-half execution.
For Bruce Pearl's Tiger squad, however, it is a matter of coming back to earth following a 75-70 home win over No. 14 Kentucky, a victory which set off a delirious celebration among fans, players and coaches in Auburn Arena.  It was definitely the highlight of what has generally been a disappointing and injury-plagued hoop season for Auburn.
But as the old adage states, throw out the record books as the Crimson Tide (10-6 overall and 1-3 in Southeastern Conference play) squares up against the arch-rival Tigers (8-8 overall, 2-3 in SEC play) on The Plains.
The game is set to tipoff at 8 p.m. CT, and will be televised by SEC Network.
During a media opportunity Monday, Johnson said he is ready to see his team get back to work following the disappointing loss to the Commodores.
"We're really excited about getting back on the court tomorrow night," he said. "We didn't have our best game up in Nashville, and we didn't make our free throws, (Vanderbilt) got to the line too much, out of position defensively and another slow start in the second half and we've addressed all those things in our practices. Especially on the road, you have to start the game out strong, and hopefully start the second half strong and we didn't do either of those things. We've had a couple of good days of practice and ready to embark on this next challenge on the road."
While getting off to a good start is critical in any game, especially on the road, it may be more so in Tuesday's game as the Tigers and their fans are no doubt still buzzing from the upset over John Calipari's Kentucky team.

By Stan J. Griffin: January 17, 2016

The Alabama and Georgia women's basketball teams entered Sunday's Southeastern Conference battle with identical 1-3 SEC records, and looking for a big victory to avoid falling into a deep early hole in the conference race.
And with a loud and record crowd of 3,732 Alabama and Georgia fans on hand at venerable Foster Auditorium, and the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs engaging in an intense battle, the game at times had the feel of a tournament contest.
Although the game was tight until late in the fourth quarter, a swarming Tide defense proved to be the ultimate difference as Alabama pulled away late for a 64-50 win.
The Tide improved to 13-5 overall and 2-3 in SEC play while the Bulldogs fell to 13-5 overall and 1-4 in league competition.
“I think your crowd is your biggest advantage at home,” said senior forward Nikki Hegstetter. “That’s why I think you see the biggest upsets at home. Because, you feed off of the crowd. You play for the crowd. They’re there. They came and took time out of their day to watch you. That’s really important and special. I think that we fed off of that, and it helped us down the stretch to get key stops. They’re helping us that much more, and we really appreciate it. We’re playing for them, and we want to see them back out there.”
“I am just really proud of our team and the effort and the energy. They made critical plays and played to win, and I thought that was a key ingredient down the stretch, and I think it was because of our crowd,” added Crimson Tide head coach Kristy Curry. “3,700 (fans), record-setting and an incredible environment, and there may be moments that we may look back on like today, and it was incredible special. Thank you to our crowd and they were into the game and a very smart basketball crowd and just a really special day for our team."
Alabama scored the first two points of the opening quarter, only to have Joni Taylor's Bulldogs (Taylor was a former Tide player) score the next seven to go up 7-2.
Led by Hannah Cook, Shaquera Wade and Karyla Middlebrook, however, the Tide used an 11-2 spurt to go back up 13-9 with just under four minutes left in the period.

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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