I've got a stiff drink, the Vandy/Ole Miss game on the telescreen, and Johnny Cash on the stereo. Let's do a mother(watch your mouth) recap. With the realization (of course) that I can't do justice to the fantastic recaps that DJC provides this blog every season. You remain the gold standard, DJC.
Since leaving the great state of Alabama over a decade ago, my ability to attend games has decreased. Therefore, when I can get back home for a game or catch a game in my reasonable vicinity, it's always exciting, despite what the win/loss record is for the team I love.Even better when my team gets a win.
I'm not an expert when it comes to grading arenas so I won't grade Reed Arena. Hopefully, DJC won't oversleep next time and miss his chance to visit the flat and uninspiring chunk of Earth that makes up College Station. At that time, he will give a fair but honest review of Reed Arena. I can say that I was fortunate enough to be seated next to some gracious Aggies who were engaging before, during and after the game. I think all of us have attended road games in the past in which we have been confronted with less than friendly fans. I did not experience that today, despite the A&M team suffering a tough loss that could impact their NCAA tournament hopes a week from now.
With that in mind, one thing that should be noted is that A&M was without Danuel House, their top player, who suffered a foot injury in their loss at Florida earlier this week. House averages just under 15 points a game, and the team really missed his scoring in the second half when Alabama went on a 24-06 run in the first nine minutes of the half. Hopefully, the selection committee will consider House's absence if/when A&M comes under the microscope on Selection Sunday.
People have been asking me for the last two seasons why I continue to support Coach Grant despite the ups and downs of the program during that span. Today was a good example of why I support the guy. Despite the win/loss record not being what any of us had hoped for by year six of his tenure, his teams have been consistently resilient in the face of adversity. That is a sign of good leadership. It might not prove to be enough to save his job at the University due to the win/loss record, but not one of his critics can say with a straight face that his teams don't fight. There were plenty of opportunities for this team to fold today, but they never did. That should be admired and celebrated, regardless of the end result.
Alabama got off to a decent start, jumping out to an 8-6 lead, but from there A&M really got after it, resulting in a 14-point deficit for Bama at halftime. A&M did a good job of attacking Alabama's zone in the 1st half, prompting me to think they should abandon it in the 2nd half. However, they stuck with it, switching things up slightly by pressing A&M more. That had a positive effect as it sped A&M up and they began to take quick shots. Despite ultimately being out-rebounded by 2, Bama controlled the boards during the decisive 24-06 run that got them back into the game. Offensively, Alabama was very balanced; four players scored in double figures. And despite modest shooting numbers (44.2% FG, 28.6% 3pt, 56.3% FT), they were able to make clutch shots when they needed them.
Jimmie Taylor was a man today. In my opinion, this was the best game of his career at Alabama. 11 pts, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks. Most important: he stayed out of foul trouble. I'm pretty sure after picking up two fouls in the 1st he did not pick up a 2nd half foul. As DJC pointed out in his recap, his presence on the floor as a defender was a big key to the win today. He has quietly become a very important player for this team.
Levi and Coop had relatively quiet days, but they made huge plays when it counted. And Retin, after a forgettable 1st half, was really good in the 2nd. Obviously, he made the game-winning shot (and should have got a foul shot, but I digress), but his aggressiveness in the 2nd was key to the Bama offense picking up the tempo. A healthy Retin has been a revelation at the tail end of this season, and I hope he's planning to return for a 5th season.
Last, but certainly not least, there was Dakota Slaughter. Talk about stepping up for your team. We all know Dakota's story so it's been extremely cool to see him make a real impact for this team the last few games. He scored 8 points today, and all three of his baskets came at crucial times. It's a fair question why he hasn't received more playing time earlier in the season as he may be the best 3-pt shooter on this team. Regardless, it's great to see him making an impact in his final games.
Other guys who made an impact, if only minimal: Justin Coleman knocked down a big three with the crowd in his ears late in the 2nd half. And I thought Devin was good on the defensive end when he played. Riley has struggled somewhat since being inserted into the starting line-up for Shannon Hale. A very quiet 28 minutes for Riley today. Need more from him next week in Nashville if Alabama is going to stick around for more than a cup of coffee. Michael Kessens didn't have a great day from a numbers standpoint, but he competed. I'm not sure we've seen a healthy Mike all season (the rumor is he's not practicing right now, just playing due to his health). I do think he has a higher upside than what we saw most nights this season. Hopefully the offseason will be a healthy one for him.
Despite the struggles this season, this team has played much better on the road vs at home. I'm going to give our reader Finebammer a shout-out here. He made a comment in one of the threads below that this team plays well with a crowd, be it a friendly one or a hostile one. The fact that the Bama fanbase, through apathy or disgruntlement regarding the basketball program, has largely avoided games this season could have arguably cost this team a couple of wins. I know some of you don't like for us to go after the fans, but this team seemed to play at a higher level the louder the A&M fans got today. I'm just sayin'. The downside to that is the typical mundane attendance numbers at the SEC Tournament (with the exception of Kentucky fans, of course) may not serve them well on Thursday. Let's hope otherwise.
It appears that Alabama will play Florida in Game 1 on Thursday in Nashville. Despite Grant's record against Billy Donovan, I do think Florida is the better match-up as opposed to Vanderbilt, who is one of the hottest teams in the conference right now. Currently up 13 at Ole Miss right now, I'm not sure anyone wants to play this Vandy team next week. The darkhorse of the field, no doubt. Yes, Kentucky would await on Friday, but I can't imagine any of us here don't want to see the Florida curse come to an end, if only temporarily. Plus, a win on Thursday might insure Bama a postseason trip of the NIT variety. Yes, I know people are tired of the NIT, but I like this group of guys and would love to see them get a chance to extend their season.