A Crimson Tide team badly in the need of a win to finish the regular season instead continued their late season swoon, losing 82-70 to Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena. The loss was the Tide’s sixth in their last eight games, and left them at 17-14 overall (8-10 SEC), the exact same record as last season.
Dazon Ingram and Daniel Giddens were unavailable to play with leg injuries in the game. Herbert Jones took Ingram’s starting spot alongside John Petty, Kira Lewis, Donta Hall, and Tevin Mack. The Tide started off holding their own, and after Alex Reese (Remember him? He hasn't seen the court in five games), Mack, and Petty hit consecutive three pointers, the team built a 26-19 lead. Things went downhill quickly from there.
Bama contributed to the problems with turnovers, including grabbing rebounds on four occasions only to fumble the ball back to the Hogs for nine points. The Tide had a chance to pull close, despite scoring only one field goal (a monster dunk by Lewis), and five points over the last 10:26 of the half. With a 36-31 deficit Bama got the ball back with around eight seconds left in the half. Avery Johnson, Jr. for some reason launched a 35 foot three point attempt with four seconds left on the clock. The shot hit nothing but air.
The drought continued for the Tide as the second half began, and stretched to five points in 12 minutes and 47 seconds. Bama was able to cut the lead to seven points several times, but the Hogs would answer with a three point shot, or another dunk by Daniel Gafford. Gafford dominated the game, and Donta Hall, to the tune of 29 points and 16 rebounds with six dunks. A Lewis basket with 6:30 left made the score 56-49, but that was the last time the Tide was anywhere close to striking distance. The Hogs toyed with Bama down the stretch, pulling out to as much as a 17 point lead, as Bud Walton went wild.
The final stats are a little misleading until you look at the free throw shooting and the turnovers, which has been the case all season. The Tide shot 25-57 for 44%, including a very good 10-24 (42%) from deep. However, 10-20 from the charity stripe just won't work. The rebounding battle was even at 36 for each team. Bama had 15 turnovers against only nine assists. Arkansas scored 19 points off of the Tide miscues. Arkansas shot 29-65 for 45%, 9-20 from deep for 45% and 15-18 from the free throw line. The Hogs had 15 assists with only eight turnovers, and had 11 steals and six blocked shots.
With Ingram and Giddens out of the game, several players that have been buried on the bench for the last five games or so saw a lot of action. Reese, Galin Smith, and Junior Johnson increased their minutes to 21, 23, and 13 respectively. Reese showed why he probably should have been in the rotation, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds. Smith led the team at the half with seven points, and finished the game with... seven points. Junior actually made a three point shot and one of his scoop layups for five points. Mack led the team with 14 points and Lewis added 12. As has been the case when the team faces elite post players, Hall disappeared, attempting only three shots, scoring three points, but did lead the team with eight rebounds.
There is not much you can say. This team has been frustrating to watch, particularly the last third of the season. The wins they didn't get when they should have very likely will cost them an NCAA Tournament bid. Some hard decisions are going to have to be made in Coleman going forward, both on the floor and on the bench. The deficiencies in ball handling and post play will have to be addressed on the court. The head scratching rotation, careless ball handling, inability to inbound the ball, and the terrible free throw shooting seem to be coaching issues that need to be looked at. Weather that is a change at the top, or among the assistants, will surely be a topic of conversation for Athletic Director Greg Byrne and his staff. The very large buyout (8 million dollars) that Avery Johnson has may hinder the process, with the University in the midst of trying to raise an enormous amount of money for facilities, including a major Coleman Coliseum renovation.
The Tide will begin play in the SEC Tournament on Thursday as the 10 seed, playing the seven seed, Ole Miss. A couple of wins in Nashville may push the team off of the side of the bubble and back squarely on it, but nothing about the way the team has been playing indicates that will happen. Buckle up, and ride it out to the end. I, for one, would just as soon turn down an NIT bid if that is what the end result is.
Buckle Up, although the belt is becoming very frayed.