Throughout the 2005 season Bama fans moaned "When will someone guard the perimeter?" Two of our best offensive players demonstrated real problems guarding their counterparts. That lack of defense seemed to result in Bama's losing almost every game in which the outside players shots eluded them.
In 2006 the outside shot frequently was absent but the perimeter defense was much improved. Jonus was a hard worker but his lack of footspeed limited what he was able to defend. Coach Gottfried eventually seemed to elect to let Chuck Davis shadow the hot shooter on the opposing team. What he lacked in quickness he made up for in length and the result usually were good.
After Chuck's injury Jean Felix, whose offense was one of the biggest joy rides of the season, proved to be an excellent shut-down defender. He shadowed, blocked, shoved, harrassed, annoyed and otherwise played mind games with the best outside threat presented by all of Bama's opponents. More often than not Felix won these duels.
Bama also exhibited a different type of toughness this season. In pretty much every other Gottfried coached season, Bama seemed unable to compete in physical games where the officials would not blow whistles on what might have been called fouls some nother nights. The Bama players would not give up or quit; but they never seemed to be able to hack, push, grab or slash back on the other team enough to slow them down to the same degree that Bama's offense was being affected.
Perhaps Richard Hendrix's imposing presence was the key factor. Perhaps Davidson's maturity was a key factor. Perhaps Ron Steele's resolve made the difference. Perhaps Felix's being unleashed to shut down shooters was the key. Perhaps all those things plus many others were modest contributing factors. I am not sure. But I am convinced that Bama won several physical games and came very close in other games (including the loss to UCLA) the would have lost in earlier seasons.
Let's hope that Coach Gottfried and his staff have solved that part of the puzzle on a permanent basis. If so, they can devote their attention to the very few other details that have been the only real difference between Bama's program and the power houses that inhabit the Sweet 16 on an annual basis.