Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Biggest Change In This Team Is

the coach. I know that is stating the obvious, but it does bear some attention.

Before bragging on my own team let me admit that Vandy did not play its best or smartest game and that their shots simply were not falling. While I'm being honest, I think I also have to admit that the game plan and play of the Bama players probably had something to do with Vandy's results. Now back to may main point: the coaching.

None of us was particularly surprised when Alabama jumped out to an early lead. We've seen that happen regularly throughout the past four seasons. As the game progressed I kept expecting the wheels to fall off. My anxiety grew as the clocked moved into the last ten minutes of the second half. Then with about 8 minutes left on the clock I realized something I had not seen in a long time: Alabama was playing to win the game!

How many times have we seen Bama blow a big lead because they started playing not to lose under the previous coach? Way too often the result was offensive ineptitude, tenuous defensive play, and missed free throws probably caused by all the extra pressure associated with trying not to be the guy who lost this game for the team? None of that was present tonight.

Sure the team botched more than enough plays and made enough unnecessary mistakes down the stretch to lose a close game against an evenly matched opponent. And yet this team did not lose. I think one reason was that the players expected to win the game. They kept taking the game to Vandy and to the hoop and kept hammering away expecting things to go their way.

Another reason the team does not wilt down the stretch might have to do with the Pearson substitution philosophy. Everywhere Bama Basketball fans could be found they have tried to figure out Coach Gottfried's substitution "pattern" for at least five years. The theme seemed to be that you find seven guys and run them into the ground. Pearson perpetually moves players in and out of the game keeping fresh legs on the court. He also appreciates that times out are no good if you do not use them until after the other team has finished its 17-0 run.

I was very happy for the team and the staff tonight. I believe Mark Gottfried can coach again somewhere some day. I hope he watched tonight's game to see what a thinking and engaged coach could have been doing with all that talent the past few years. I also hope Coach Pearson has caught the attention of some other program. This team's turn around has been amazing.

Way to go, guys. Roll Tide!

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