Shannon Hale was back in the starting lineup, and despite his stats not being pretty I actually thought he played a pretty good game. He was aggressive offensively and was able to draw some fouls on the LSU bigs. He did about as good as could be expected in the man to man defensively when matched up against Simmons.
While all the focus was on Simmons, LSU has a lot of good players around him. I thought the key to winning this game would be to limit the contributions from his supporting cast, and make Simmons beat us by himself. Instead, they ended up with 4 other players in double-digits to go along Simmons' 23.
I really believe that if you flipped coaches, LSU would win by 20+. Alabama looked like the much more motivated team. We beat them to most all of the 50/50 balls, and there were several possessions when LSU retreated to defense as soon as they put up a shot. Given our rebounding problems; I don't understand why they wouldn't at least go after the boards. Also, I would have Simmons touch the ball on every possession if I were coaching the Tigers.
We maintained a 5 point lead for much of the game, but give credit to LSU for answering to keep it close every time we made a big play to build some momentum. I thought the key to the game was LSU switching to a 2-3 zone with around 5 minutes remaining, due mostly to their foul trouble. Long, athletic zones seem to be the kryptonite for our offense. We had a lot of empty possessions going after Simmons trying to get his 5th foul. Obviously, getting him out of the game would have been huge, but we were 10 of 25 from 3 point range and probably should have tried taking a few more shots over the top rather than going after their bigs late in the game.
There's been a lot of criticism about the last play, but I didn't have a huge problem with it. It was not much different than what we ran in our last possession against Notre Dame, and Retin has proven he can finish those types of shots. There were a lot of possibilities, he could have drew the foul, we had time for a possible rebound and put back, but the ball just didn't bounce our way.
Once again, poor free throw shooting bit us in the ass. We were only 12 of 19. We also had too many unforced turnovers, particularly in the first half. I think we were called for travelling 5 times, and they were all good calls.
We knew this schedule was brutal, and unfortunately we have not handled it very well. At 1-5 in the conference, it's difficult to find a realistic path to the NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, it was an accomplishment for this team to stay in that conversation for as long as they have, and there is still a lot that can be accomplished this season. We are building for the future, and it's important that we stay positive in our support of these players and coaching staff.
The game was sold out, but there were quite a few empty seats in the season ticket holder sections. I would estimate a solid crowd of 13,500. The student section was overflowing, and I understand hundreds of students were turned away. I wish there were some way to allow those students to use the seats of the no-shows. There were hardly any LSU fans there, and the crowd was loud and supportive throughout, and most everybody stayed till the end. It's a shame we couldn't find a way to pull it out.
Up next, the Tennessee Vols come to Tuscaloosa for an 8 pm tipoff Tuesday night. The game will be televised on SEC Network.