I see this game has already been discussed, but wanted to add a couple of things. In many ways, it was a lot like the Mercer game. Ugly first half but a 5 point halftime lead, stagnant offense in the second half, failure to use timeouts until a big lead turned into a five point deficit, and unable to get key stops late. We did improve in some areas from the Mercer game.
We seem to have finally figured out that with our lack of inside guys playing a man to man defense is not an option. We primarily ran a 1-3-1 zone, and had some success trapping in the corners and double-teaming in the post. Nick Jacobs was not very good in the first half, but played great in the second half, even on defense by our standards. I question why he was sitting on the bench from the 8 minute to the two minute mark. Moussa Gueye actually did an adequate job.
As has been stated, our guard play let us down. Again, we pass up decent shots early in the shot clock. I thought Cooper had a mismatch for much of the 2nd half and did not take advantage of it, trying to shoot over his man when he could have beaten him off the dribble. Overall, the effort was decent, but there were a couple of plays that stick out in my mind where a lack of hustle hurt us. There were a couple of plays, especially one in the first half, where the ball was headed towards the sideline being last touched by Tulane, and instead of at least hustling over to be in position to hinder the Tulane player from getting to it, or be able to defend if they did get the save, we stood and watched the ball go out of bounds. Problem is, Tulane actually hustled and made the saves and got easy baskets as a result. There were also a couple of loose balls that I think we should have gotten to if we would have got on the floor.
Strategically, I thought our coaching decisions were better defensively this game. I've already mentioned the 1-3-1 zone, but I thought we made better decisions regarding when to bring full court pressure. I really liked the way Retin played in the press. He did a good job of not letting their guards get to the middle and forcing them into long difficult passes.
Earlier in the season we were finding a way to win the close games. Any confidence gained from the South Dakota State and Oregon State wins are long gone. Give Tulane credit for making the plays in the final 2 minutes. They made a couple of 3's, but I had no problem with us being in a zone defense on those possessions. We are going to have to take some chances and pick our poison with this group, and sometimes we will get burned. It was our inability to execute and answer on offense that bothered me.
One key play was a travel call on Moussa Gueye. It was actually a bad call, Gueye did not catch the pass cleanly, he bobbled it, but the official behind the play was not in position to see the space between the ball and Moussa's hand, and saw him shuffle his feet and called a travel. It happened right in front of me, and should have been a basket. Instead, Tulane gets 3 at the other end for a 5 point swing. I was so proud of Moussa for finally going up with the ball and not putting it on the floor in the paint, and he gets called for a travel. Of course, if he would have caught the ball cleanly it probably would not have been an issue.
Another bad turnover was when Trevor Releford caught the ball in the corner with a wide open look for 3. He hesitated for a second, allowing the Tulane defender to close out, and then he jumped to shoot and changed his mind in mid air and decided to double dribble instead. This goes back to what I have been saying about our guards being hesitant to shoot. If he catches and shoots without thinking about it he's got a good look. At worst, he should have altered his shot and at least gave us a chance at a rebound. I'm not certain he would not have been fouled if he went ahead and shot it.
My biggest complaint of this game, once again, is how we managed (or did not manage) the final 10 seconds. As Tulane lined up for the free throws, I yelled over to Coach Grant, "We've got a timeout left if he misses!" He missed, we got the rebound. We frantically pushed the ball up the court as the players scrambled to the 3 point line. I could see the confusion and panic in their eyes. Nobody knew who was to be screening for who or where to go with the ball. All the while I am screaming and jumping up and down yelling "TIMEOUT." Unfortunately, NCAA rules dictate that only the head coach or players on the court have the authority to call a timeout. The officials will not grant a timeout to some obnoxious jackass in the stands, and neither our head coach nor our players had the presence of mind to realize the necessity of calling one in that situation. Who knows if we get and/or make a better shot anyway, but it is beyond frustrating. We missed an off balance, contested shot and took our timeout with us, along with the loss, into the locker room.
It is going to be a long season. I will continue to go to the games and support this team because I love the game of basketball and I love Alabama basketball. I will enjoy the few victories as they come while trying not to get too upset about the losses, because I am expecting many more of them as this point anyway. Big picture, Coach Grant is not going anywhere either before or immediately after this season's conclusion. A lot of you may not like that, but it's a fact, so you might as well deal with it. If you have read this blog you will know that I am not a Coach Grant apologist. I have serious issues with the way he has managed the roster this year, his clock and timeout management decisions, and at times our offensive philosophy. That said, I still think he's a good coach and these are all correctable problems. My hope is that a lot of people calling for his head now are going to feel very silly when we are playing in the Sweet 16 next year. I don't think that's an unrealistic possibility or expectation.
The crowd was much better than I expected. I would estimate probably 8,000 or so. My gf has been a little under the weather, so I was flying solo for this one. After the first media timeout some annoying kids came down and sat behind me, so I joined a friend of mine on the floor student section risers for the second half. We were the only 2 "students" on the floor. My friend, while technically a student has been at UA for 20 years and is in his late 40s. I figured this was probably my last chance to be the youngest person sitting in the student section.
Up next, the Oakland (Michigan, not Cali) Grizzlies come to Tusclaoosa for a 3pm tipoff next Saturday. Their record is not good, but they've played a brutal schedule, including Pitt into overtime on the road. I expect another close game.
Happy New Year to everyone.