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SUNDAY, JANUARY 21, 2007
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Steele’s
shot saves Tide

Junior guard picks up struggling UA

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com· 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Ronald Steele hasn’t felt good enough to do much of anything on the basketball court recently.

Alabama’s oft-injured All-American point guard has fought through knee and ankle issues this season, and with him coming off a 1-of-11 shooting performance against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, who could blame anyone who might’ve counted out Steele as a major factor for Alabama?

But when the time came, Steele felt healthy enough to leap around the court and skip to the cheers of 15,316 fans after hitting the last-second, game-winning shot in No. 10 Alabama’s 78-76 victory Saturday over Georgia.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Steele, who finished with 13 points. “I’ve been kind of disappointed with my injuries and to not give as much to the team as I can. It shows you have to keep pushing through.”

Steele started the game-winning play with 17.2 seconds left isolated by Georgia’s defense straight away from the basket a few feet behind the 3-point line.

He then moved to his left, hoping to get an open shot with the help of a screen set by Athens High graduate Richard Hendrix.

However, Georgia guard Sundiata Gaines defended Steele and forced him to stop.

Steele then used his pivot foot to fight past Gaines, lean forward and nail the 14-footer from an off-balance angle with no time remaining.

“That was the worst shot we could have possibly had,” Steele said. “It felt like it was good, but that’s not a high-percentage shot.”

Before that play, Gaines missed a jump shot from straight away near the 3-point arc with the shot clock at zero.

When the ball came down — seemingly as an air ball — Georgia forward Takais Brown got the rebound and then fumbled the ball out of bounds.

The whistle blew signifying a shot-clock violation, but a replay showed that the ball hit the rim. The game officials ruled that Alabama had the ball, because the possession arrow pointed the Crimson Tide’s way when the play was blown dead by the whistle.

“Because no team had possession of the ball at the time of the whistle, go to the possession arrow,” official Tom Lopes said in a statement released after the game.

Steele’s shot capped a comeback of several varieties for the Crimson Tide (15-3, 2-2 SEC) — a comeback from a 21-point drubbing at Vanderbilt, a comeback from being down 15-0 in the first 3:08, a comeback from being down by 19 points with 5:35 left in the first half, and a comeback from 11 points back in the final 4:33.

“When you find yourself in a hole, you’re down and you’re struggling, you can easily shut it down,” said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, who turned 43 Saturday. “Our guys kept competing the whole game. We had some big baskets by key guys. I know we only led one time, the last second, but we’ll take it.”

Following the game, Gottfried said that when he looks at the videotape later, he probably will see contributions from everybody. And Alabama did get help in key instances from several different players.

In the first half, Alonzo Gee used his newly minted inside-outside game to almost single-handedly keep Alabama within shouting distance of the Bulldogs (11-6, 3-2).

Gee had an empathic dunk early in the half and made a couple of 3-point baskets to score 13 points in the half. He finished with a team-high 21.

In the second half, Mykal Riley scored 14 of his 17 points. Guard Brandon Hollinger bore down on defense to slow Georgia’s transition attack.

The Bulldogs shot 56.7 percent in the first half, including 60 percent from 3-point range. But they hit only 40.7 percent in the second half, hitting one 3-point basket.

Hollinger defended Gaines in the second half and held the fleet-footed Georgia guard to seven of his game-high 22 points.

“That was the difference — (Brandon) coming in the game,” Steele said. “He is so quick and full of energy. He is the best on-ball defender I’ve seen.”

But the main difference was Steele’s overall play. The junior guard seemed more determined than ever to fight to the basket and test his injured ankle beyond its parameters.

“Being hurt isn’t just a physical thing, it’s a mental thing,” Steele said. “At the start of the game, I was like here we go again, that was in the back of my mind. But I know the type of guys we have on the team.

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