BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Texas coach Shaka Smart wanted both his team and star freshman Mohamed Bamba to ratchet up their play heading into conference play.
He got his wish on both counts. Bamba had career highs with 17 points and six blocked shots, along with 11 rebounds, to lead the Longhorns to a 66-50 victory over Alabama late Friday night.
Texas (9-3) scored 12 straight points to pull away down the stretch at Legacy Arena, about an hour from campus for the Crimson Tide (8-4).
“It’s big for us just from momentum,” Smart said. “We haven’t been at our best the last few times out.
“We wanted to come in here and be aggressive and really try to go at Alabama because we knew they were going to go at us.”
The 6-foot-11 Bamba, the nation’s No. 3 shot blocker, made 7 of 10 shots for Texas. His putback dunk helped turn back a rally attempt by the Tide.
“I challenged him a lot tonight because I think he has more in him than he’s shown earlier this year and I think he took a step in terms of playing hard,” Smart said.
Matt Coleman scored 13 points and Kerwin Roach Jr. added 11 points and five assists. Dylan Osetkowski had eight points, seven below his season average, on 3-of-11 shooting.
John Petty led Alabama with 14 points. Daniel Giddens scored 10. Freshman Collin Sexton, the SEC’s leading scorer, scored eight points on 4-of-12 shooting. He came in averaging nearly 22 points, but did have five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson said he didn’t try to put a positive spin on the performance with his players. “I just told the team true, we weren’t very good,” he said.
“(The Longhorns) were mentally tougher,” Johnson added. “They shared the ball a little bit more. They had consistent energy. We just didn’t have it. I’m very disappointed, disappointed with this loss, disappointed with our body language, our lack of movement. All correctible errors.”
Alabama cut a 12-point second-half deficit down to 51-46 on Sexton’s putback with 6:56 left. Eric Davis then hit back to back 3-pointers for the Longhorns, including one that just beat the shot clock.
Then Bamba dunked and drew a foul after an offensive rebound. His free throw pushed the lead back to double digits, at 60-48, heading into the final four minutes. That matched the Longhorns’ biggest lead at the time but it kept growing from there.
The Longhorns also led by as many as 12 points late in the first half when Alabama missed eight straight shots. The Tide cut it to 35-28 at halftime, closing with Galin Smith’s dunk and Dazon Ingram’s fast-break layup off a pass from Sexton.
“We just played bad tonight,” Petty said. “We had bad rhythm. We had bad spacing and we just had bad communication on both ends.”
Texas: Won its third straight game and rebounded from a poor shooting performance against Tennessee State. Made 24 of 54 shots (44 percent).
Alabama: Had its stretch of six straight single-digit games end. Made just 21 of 61 shots (34 percent) and hit only three 3-pointers, two of them from Petty.
HOT PROSPECTS: The game featuring potential high draft picks Bamba and Sexton drew a crowd of NBA scouts from 24 teams plus a combined 11 general managers or assistant general managers.
KEY PERFORMANCE: Alabama’s Braxton Key, last year’s leading scorer, played 22 minutes in his second game of the season after a preseason knee injury. He scored two points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Texas hosts No. 14 Kansas Friday night to open Big 12 Conference play.
Alabama hosts No. 8 Texas A&M on Saturday, Dec. 30 in the Southeastern Conference opener.