With less than 20 seconds remaining in yesterday's game against the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Crimson Tide basketball team had the ball with a chance to win and move to #1 in the SEC. Unfortunately, Bama turned the ball over, sealing the Arkansas comeback and a 70-65 win for the Hogs, moving both teams to 2-1 in the SEC. The Tide held a lead for 37:01, while Arkansas held a lead for only 1:16, making for a frustrating conclusion for Bama fans.
There were some good things and some bad things to take from this one. As for the bad stuff, the biggest factor in the game was that the Tide seemed to wear down and let up a bit mentally at the end of each half. In the first half, Bama limited the Hogs to 23 points in the first 18:54 and had a 10 point lead just before halftime, but then got sloppy and gave up a 6-0 run in the final 1:06 to pull Arkansas within 4 at the half. Then, in the second half, Bama limited the Hogs to 21 points in the first 13:23 but allowed the Hogs to score 20 more in the final 6:37.
Obviously in a game that literally came down to one possession at the end, you could point to a million things that could have changed the outcome, but by far the biggest factor in this loss was allowing Arkansas to get to the rim and score too easily in the last minute of the first half and the last six minutes or so of the game. Whether we wore down physically or not is hard to say, but it certainly seemed as though we lost our focus a bit on the defensive end. Don't get me wrong, our defense has been great, and was great yet again for most of this one, but we noticeably let down our guard at key times and you just can't do that on the road in college basketball against a comparable opponent.
Yet again we failed to get anything going from the 3-point line. We hit 2 of our first 3, but then went 0-for-7 after that. We're now 3-for-21 in our three SEC games. That's one make per game. Scary. Transitioning now to the good stuff, though, I thought we actually played quite well offensively considering the lack of long-range scoring. We got plenty of good shots against a good defensive team, so that should be encouraging moving forward.
Trevor Releford was the biggest reason the offense was able to get such good shots. The freshman point guard had an outstanding game with 17 points and 4 assists and only 2 turnovers. One of those two turnovers however came on the deciding possession with about 15 seconds left. You really hate it that he had such a good game but then committed such a crucial error in the last seconds, but as a freshman who's poised for an outstanding career I'm sure he can learn from this and be ready the next time he's called on in such a situation.
Our two other top players also played pretty well, combining for 30 points and 10 rebounds, though Tony Mitchell was limited with foul trouble and JaMychal Green failed to capitalize on a few good scoring opportunities. Still, he was good on the defensive end with 4 blocks. I really thought our two "hustle guys" played well today too. Senario Hillman did a very, very good job defensively on Arkansas's top scorer Rotnei Clarke, and he also added 9 points and 2 assists. Chris Hines was a monster around the rim, grabbing 12 rebounds and adding 2 blocks.
It seems as though Grant has settled into a 7.5 man rotation for now, with Hillman and Andrew Steele as the sixth and seventh man respectively and Ben Eblen adding spot minutes when needed. With all five of the starters playing about 30 minutes or more each game in this rotation, let's hope that they don't wear down as the season goes on.
This was a frustrating loss to be sure, not only because we led for nearly the entirety but also because of where a win would have put us in the SEC West race. With a win we would have been the only undefeated SEC team and we would have had road wins over the SEC West's top two teams in our pocket, putting us in the driver's seat early in the West race. Instead, we let the win slip away late, but all is certainly not lost. The silver lining in this one was seeing the way we competed and actually outplayed Arkansas for most of the game. We've now played arguably the two best teams in the SEC West on their home court, and our performances there have proven we can play with anyone in the West, and that we can even do it on the road. At 2-1 now we're still tied atop the West standings and we'll get to see the Hogs again in Tuscaloosa later on.
For now let's get ready to focus on the nationally televised showdown with Kentucky in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night.