For the most part, I thought our communication and structure on defense was excellent. We contained Moody as well as could be expected and we had active hands forcing steals, blocking shots, and getting turnovers. Unfortunately, the shots weren't falling early, and our problems controlling the basketball continued. Ole Miss had a 25-15 lead and the new Pavilion was rocking.
Despite the loss, one huge positive I took from this game was that we showed incredible poise when things looked bleak. I was afraid this could turn into another Dayton or Xavier type fiasco when they had the early double digit lead. Instead, we came out of a timeout and continued what was working on defense, showed a little more patience on offense, started moving the ball around and making shots. We went on a crazy run and took a 40-32 lead into the half.
Give Ole Miss credit for making some halftime adjustments and moving Moody off ball from time to time to get him more favorable matchups. He ended up with 21 points after getting away from the double teams. It was fun to watch him and Retin go after each other, and Retin more than held his own. They also made more of an effort to attack the basket, and often caught us out of position. As a result, we played most of the second half with all of our big men in foul trouble. This led to even more rebounding difficulties, and it was just too much to overcome.
We lost this game primarily due to two reasons, rebounding and turnovers. For all the talk about Moody, you have to give Saiz a lot of credit. He scored 21 points, in part because we were forced to pay extra attention to Moody, but he was a beast on the boards.
Art Edwards had a great game, his 5 for 6 shooting from 3 point range kept us in it early and helped us build the halftime lead. Retin seemed to put the team on his back, scoring 23 points and refusing to let Ole Miss put it away. Kessens had a great game with 10 points and leading us with 7 rebounds; he really stepped up with everybody limited by foul trouble. Donta Hall was awesome defensively, blocking 5 shots while Jimmie was on the bench, but unfortunately he fouled out himself. He's got to be smarter about fouling far away from the basket.
Justin did not have one of his better games. He was only 2 of 7 from 3 point range and had 2 assists to 5 turnovers. I like his game, but he's a streaky scorer and while he's added some strength from last year, he's still going to be prone to turnovers. We really missed Dazon tonight.
In my opinion, the biggest weakness on this team right now is the small forward position. Shannon Hale did not start, but came off the bench as he is still recovering from his "medical condition." He continues to look bad and disinterested. He had a horrible turnover seconds after entering the game that resulted in Moody's first 3 and sparked Ole Miss's first half run to a 10 point lead. He did make one 3 in the second half, but otherwise was a non-factor. With few exceptions, he's looked nothing like the Shannon Hale that showed tons of potential as a freshman, and frankly it's disappointing that his effort and body language has not improved under Coach Johnson. I really believe he has NBA potential if he would commit himself, but right now he's a waste of talent.
Riley Norris doesn't have near Hale's physical ability, and he appears to be in over his head at times. He is a liability on defense, and he has no confidence in his shot right now. With around 40 seconds left, trailing by 5, Riley failed to box out on a free throw after the Rebels graciously missed 2 in a row to open the door for us. They got the rebound, made the next 2, and that was all she wrote. With the influx of talent coming in next year, both of these guys better start taking advantage of their playing time this season, or else they may find themselves riding the pine next year or looking for other opportunities in the off season.
The big story of the night was Ole Miss opening their new arena. I was offered free tickets to the game, but I did not go. I had a bad experience there at the 2003 football game and I will never again grace that overrated, backwards-ass town or campus with my presence. Nevertheless, I must admit it looked really nice on TV. It's inexcusable that Ole Freakin' Miss has a nicer basketball arena than us. Good for them, and hopefully it will start a trend in the SEC that will work its way to Tuscaloosa sooner rather than later.
Up next, it doesn't get any easier. The Kentucky Wildcats come to Tuscaloosa for a 5pm tipoff Saturday evening. On one hand, we are getting them at home early in the season, which is clearly the best opportunity to knock them off. On the other hand, they will be highly motivated coming off a rare blowout loss to LSU, our students aren't back yet, and a significant part of our fanbase will already be in Arizona for Monday's football game; so in a way it's bad timing despite being good timing. If you want to go, you'll have to fight the Big Blue Nation on the secondary ticket market, as this game is already sold out. Speaking of which, I expect a large contingent of Kentucky fans to invade Coleman Saturday. Please be nice to these people, and make them feel welcome. As many of you know, I travel to away games as much as possible, and we've been treated like royalty every time we've been to Lexington, win or lose. It is by far the most pleasant and fun road trip in the SEC, and it would be nice if our fans can return the favor. At the same time, stay positive and stay behind our guys, we need to put this one behind us and keep fighting. We have a chance to pull off a huge a win Saturday, but the team will need all the help they can get. I sincerely hope the Cats fans enjoy Tuscaloosa, with the exception of the outcome of the game Saturday night.