Alabama's confident Releford riding hot streak

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's Trevor Releford is heeding his coach's daily message: Don't pass up open shots.

The Crimson Tide guard is putting up easily the best offensive numbers of his career largely because he's taking, and hitting, far more 3-pointers. He credits a renewed confidence in his jump shot regularly reinforced by coach Anthony Grant.

"Shots that I would have open last year, I would hesitate just because I wasn't really confident in my shot," Releford said. "Coach keeps telling me every day, 'We need you to take open shots.' Not necessarily forcing shots. He doesn't need me to go out and get 20 every night but if it happens and helps the team, even better.

"He's confident in my shooting ability."

The Kansas City native and four-year starter heads to his home state on a hot streak when the Tide (8-8, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) faces Missouri on Saturday. He scored 26 points in a loss at Mizzou Arena last season.

Releford has averaged 22.6 points over the last five games, scoring 34 at UCLA and 28 in Wednesday night's win over Mississippi State. He hit 6 of 9 3-pointers in both games and ranks among the SEC's top 5 in seven statistical categories.

The four-year starter is having his best season statistically, scoring in double figures every game this season.

"I think Relly, pretty much every game this year, has been a consistent guy for us," Grant said. "I'll continue to say that's exactly what our team needs. We need consistency more than anything else. He was great (Wednesday) but every single night I think he's consistent in terms of what he brings to our team.

"We've got to get more of our guys doing that on a consistent basis in terms of what they provide for our team."

Releford is the SEC's No. 4 scorer at 18.9 points a game, first in the league and fourth nationally in free throw percentage (93.1 percent) and fourth in 3-point accuracy (41.1 percent).

His biggest strength in past seasons offensively was his ability to explode by defenders and score on drives, even as his outside shooting continued to improve since his freshman year.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder has also shed a dozen pounds since last season, helping give him the endurance to play 33.5 minutes a game effectively. That also ranks fourth in the league.

"It's definitely been a huge part of it, to me," Releford said. "I'm able to play at a high level longer than I was last year and just help my team out instead of just being on the bench because of fatigue.

"That's played a big part in my success so far."

Releford is not only increasing his scoring and 3-point accuracy for the fourth straight year, he's also shooting much more from long range.

He has hit 39 3s in 15 games, just nine shy of his total in 34 games last season and one short of the combined number he managed as a freshman and sophomore.

A 1-for-8 performance from beyond the arc against Georgia didn't change Grant's message.

"He's still telling me to shoot the ball," Releford said. "It's a confidence thing."

Perhaps a necessity thing, too. The Tide had to make up for the transfer of No. 2 scorer Trevor Lacey to North Carolina State. Forward Devonta Pollard also was dismissed from the team.

The Tide's struggles in navigating a difficult nonconference performance that included games with Oklahoma, No. 23 Duke and No. 25 UCLA has left Alabama with an uphill climb to becoming a candidate for the NCAA tournament.

The team's only scholarship senior, that's where Releford is hoping to finish his Tide career.

"It is very motivating for me," Releford said. "Coach talks about let's send the seniors out the right way and let's get back to the tournament. Let's put Alabama back on that stage. Let's do everything in our power to get to that point."

He's done his part so far.

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