There had to be some doubt in the back (or maybe even the front) of the players' minds on the flight back from Dayton. Had they been practicing with a 20 second shot clock for this? Had they worked so hard in the offseason program for this? How could anyone blame them or anyone else for having some doubts? They weren't simply bested in a hostile environment by an Elite 8 caliber team, they were embarrassed. The Tide's 48 points were the fewest of any team playing in ESPN's college basketball marathon that lasted over 24 continuous hours and as if that wasn't bad enough it was the programs worst defeat since 2001. Tide fans weren't sure what to expect when Alabama returned home Friday night to face a Louisiana-Lafayette team picked to win it's conference, led by a potential 1st round pick in center Shawn Long. Would Avery Johnson's team be able to put the Dayton game behind them? Would someone emerge as a legitimate go-to-guy the offense so desperately needed?
The answers to those questions were emphatic as the Tide came out and, as Coach Saban would so eloquently say, "Ran through the Ragin' Cajuns ass like shit through a tin horn." Shannon Hale showed from the opening tip that he was going to be the aggressive, active, scorer this team needs him to be, finishing with 18 points on 50% shooting. Alabama came out on fire, shooting 10-12 while playing at the pace Coach Johnson has had in mind all along. The ball movement was beautiful, the shooting was lethal, as in 15-25 from beyond the arc lethal. The players seemed to be playing loose and more confident. We even saw glimpses of the shooter Riley Norris was always supposed to be. Retin Obasohan played efficient, under control basketball. Justin Coleman orchestrated the offense like he never has before.
Perhaps most impressively Alabama cleared a hurdle that has tripped it up for two seasons. All who have followed the Crimson Tide basketball program over the past couple of seasons know that we are a drastically different team when Jimmie Taylor gets into foul trouble. Friday night Jimmie Taylor once again picked up his second foul in the first half. This is usually the point where Alabama falls apart, particularly since the opposing center likely has a future in professional basketball, but true freshman Dont'a Hall continued to surprise and give this team solid minutes. Sure, Shawn Long still got his (9/15, 25 points) but like SEC+ color analyst Rick Moody said, it was a quiet 25. Tonight the good guys would simply not be denied and the game was never truly in doubt.
If Tuesday's loss was a step back, tonight's win was two steps forward. Tonight wasn't perfect. For starters, Coach Avery Johnson will undoubtedly look to improve a defense that allowed 93 points on 45% shooting. Still, tonight's effort established a standard for this young team, a standard it needs to live up to in Orlando Thursday when it takes on another recent nemesis in Xavier. Next week will tell us a lot about where this team truly is, but if tonight was any indication, we should have some fun basketball to enjoy along with our turkey.