Same verse times three. Alabama’s basketball team did some good things, building an early 9-0 lead and a seven point lead at 50-43 over Arizona in the second half before folding the last 16 minutes of the game and falling 87-74 to the nations fourth ranked team. Awful shooting, turnovers, and foul trouble doomed the Tide. Badly needing to win at least one of the gauntlet of Purdue, Creighton, and Arizona, Bama led in all three games before falling in the end. Bama fell to 6-5 while Arizona improved to 9-1.
Coach Nate Oats used the starting lineup of Mark Sears, Aaron Estrada, Grant Nelson, Rylan Griffen, and Mo Wague- the most common group this season. Bama started off playing well and when Estrada hit a three point shot with 17:10 left had a lead of 9-0. The Tide was swarming on defense and very active on the boards, but after Estradas make from long the team couldn't buy a three point basket. After eight straight misses from deep Bama still had a lead of 11-4 with 13:50 remaining. With 8:05 left in the half the Tide only had five fouls, a remarkable improvement after the last few games. Unfortunately that trend changed as the game went on.
With eight minutes left Bama was a ghastly 1-18 from three point range and was still tied 23-23. This on the heels of a 4-22 showing in the Creighton game. Five for forty over a game in a half isn't conducive to success. Freshman Sam Walters got the team off the snide with a long range jumper and the team swapped the lead back and forth for a few minutes. Walters made another from deep to give Bama a 35-34 lead with 1:50 left in the half. At the same time Nelson was 0-7 from behind the arc. Sears made two free throws to close out the half and Bama trailed 41-40 at the break.
At the half Bama was shooting only 11-35 for 31%, with 3-22 for 14% from three and made 15-18 free throws to keep themselves in the game. The Tide had 22 rebounds, seven assists, five steals, two blocks, and seven turnovers. Walters had his best half of the season and led the team with 12 points while Sears and Estrada added seven each. Bama only had eight fouls in the half, a big improvement from the last several games.
Arizona shot better at 15-36 for 42%, but 3-12 from three while making 8-10 free throws. The Cats gathered 26 rebounds, had seven assists, one block, five steals, and nine turnovers. Oumar Bello had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Oats sent out the same starters for the second half and things again started off in the Tide favor. Nelson finally made his first three point attempt on his eighth try to tie the game at 43-43 with 18:40 left. Hoops by Estrada and Nick Pringle give Bama a lead of 47-43 before Nelson nailed another from behind the arc for at the 16:26 mark for a 50-43 lead and a 10-0 Tide run. Things went south from there.
Arizona cut the lead to 51-50 with 13:17 left before the suddenly resurgent Nelson hit another long range shot for a 54-50 lead that was short lived. Fouls and turnovers became common place, even a shot clock violation on the normally quick shooting Tide team. With nine minutes left the Wildcats had a 59-54 lead, outscoring Bama 16-4 over a seven minute stretch.
Bama fouls became the norm and the Cats were in the double bonus with 8:44 left in the game. The Tide went four minutes without scoring while Arizona was on a 14-0 run. Pringle and Wague started piling up fouls, both eventually fouling out for the third straight game. With six minutes left Sears finally connected on a three point shot and the Tide looked to have a little life, down 69-61. The Cats continued scoring in the paint and at the line and to push the lead to a comfortable margin and won going away, 87-74.
In the second half Bama “heated up” to 11-30 for 37%, and 5-18 from deep for 28% while making 7-8 from the line. Overall the Tide finished 22-65 for 34%, 8-40 for 20% from three- thats 12-62 the last two games BTW- and 22-26 for 85% from the charity stripe. Bama garnered 38 rebounds, had 12 assists, three blocks, 10 steals, 18 huge turnovers, and committed 25 total fouls, after only eight in the first half. Despite shooting 5-19 overall and 3-15 from three point range, Nelson led the team with 17 points and had five rebounds and two assists. Walters was the lone offensive bright spot with 15 points on 3-6 shooting- 3-5 from deep, and 6-8 free throws. Sears made a late push to reach double figures with 12 points but was only 2-7, 1-5 from the field, but did have six rebounds and six steals. Estrada had 11 points on 4-10 shooting and led the team with six assists. Wague led the team with seven rebounds.
Arizona shot 13-29 for 45% in the second, with only 1-5 from three point range, but made 19-27 free throws (27 attempts in ONE HALF). The Cats easily won the battle of the boards with 48 rebounds, had 12 assists, 13 steals, three blocks and had 14 turnovers. All five starters finished in double digits with Ballo notching a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Another disappointing loss to a great team. Bama really needed at least one victory in the stretch of Purdue, Creighton, and Arizona but came away with an 0-3 mark. The team did some really good things in all three games, but poor shooting and foul trouble derailed them in each contest. The effort, particularly early on in each half, was outstanding tonight, but it is hard to overcome 8-40 three point shooting. From two point range the team was 14-25. The first half defense without fouling was a revelation, but the second half performance undid all that goodwill. Where does the team go from here? Try to get right in the next two OOC games before SEC play begins. Eastern Kentucky is next up on Saturday, at home, in a 3 p.m. game. Liberty comes to Birmingham on December 30th before the conference slate starts in Nashville against the reeling Vanderbilt Commodores. Hopefully the team can regroup and have a strong showing in the SEC.
The Eastern Kentucky game will be on the SEC Network. The Liberty game time and television network is TBD at this time.