Alabama braces for 7-6 Fall, Central Florida

The talk from No. 24 Alabama heading into Sunday’s game against Central Florida at Tuscaloosa, Ala., centered around the Knights’ 7-foot-6 center, Tacko Fall.

Most of the Crimson Tide (6-1) commented they have not faced a player with such size, with Fall’s height and weight at 295 pounds. Senior wing player Riley Norris recalled a game on the AAU circuit when his team played 7-6, 300-pound Mamadou N’Diaye, who went on to play for UC Irvine.

“He was tough matchup,” Norris said of N’Diaye in a press conference. “Luckily, I didn’t have to guard that guy much, occasionally you get switched on to him. But there’s really no game-planning in AAU, it’s more just pick-up.

“I know coach and this staff will have a good game plan going into Sunday’s game.”

Alabama coach Avery Johnson will counter Fall with 6-11, 247-pound starting center Daniel Giddens, who is averaging only 2.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game. The guard-oriented Crimson Tide plays the interior with a group of forwards instead of having a focal point, such as Fall is with Central Florida (4-3).

Donta Hall, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward is very active, averaging 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. In Alabama’s last game, a 77-74 victory over Louisiana Tech on Wednesday, Hall produced 15 points, seven rebounds, five dunks and four blocked shots.

Hall and freshman reserve forward Galin Smith have bolstered the frontcourt. Smith is averaging more minutes than Giddens at 13.8. He averages 4.0 points and 2.9 rebounds.

“I feel like our interior play is way ahead of what it was last year,” Norris said. “I know they get a lot more double teams from Galin and Donta and Daniel because they can score the ball inside.”

Fall, who is from Senegal, leads the Knights with 11 points per game while posting seven rebounds and two blocks per game.

Johnson knows about game-planning for a player of Fall’s size, having coached 13-year NBA center Shawn Bradley (7-6, 275 pounds) when he coached the Dallas Mavericks.

“The first thing is you want to try to play your style of basketball without any hesitation,” Johnson said Friday. “But at the same time, you’re dealing with a different type of player here when you’re 7-6 and basically have a 10-foot (wingspan). You raise your hands, you can touch the rim flat-footed. So, when you drive to the basket, you have to be aware of where he is.

“He’s a great shot-blocker, good position player. But you can’t run from him, either. You’ve got to take the ball, you’ve got to be strong with the basketball.”

Johnson mentioned it is easy to overlook Central Florida’s other players because of Fall but he knows a more dangerous player might be redshirt senior forward A.J. Davis, who is averaging 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds.

He also leads the Knights in assists (2.1) and minutes (34.3) per game this season.

In the Knights’ 62-59 loss to Missouri last week at home, Davis led them with 14 points and nine rebounds.

It was Central Florida’s third consecutive loss. The Knights lost to West Virginia 83-45 and to St. John’s 46-43 in the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla., before losing to Missouri.

“We have to keep grinding, keep fighting,” Central Florida coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I mean, three straight losses against three really good basketball teams … We do a few different things right and two of the three games could have gone the other way for us.”