Thursday, November 28, 2013
Duke Downs Bama, 74-64
Disappointing. We had a great opportunity and came up short. I don't believe in moral victories, and even if I did, I'm not sure this would qualify as one. Sure, there were a few positives, but overall this was just a big disappointment for a number of reasons.
It was an ugly game to start but we were playing good defense and generally limiting Duke to only one shot. Despite a slow start offensively, we were able to build an early lead. We were up by 5 with around 11 minutes to play in the first half when Releford picked up his second foul. When he left the game, our offense completely shut down, and Duke had the lead within a matter of just a few possessions. It was a risky move to bring him back into the game in the first half, but I think it was the right call, as the game was dangerously close to slipping away. He was forced to play somewhat tentatively due to the foul trouble, but we were still able to go into the half "only" down 11.
The halftime adjustments proved why Coach K is a hall of fame coach. They baited our 1-3-1 halfcourt trap by getting the ball to their bigs, who also happen to catch and pass fairly well, in a position where they could find their shooters, especially Cook, wide open for 3. I said before the game we needed to make Parker try to beat us by himself, and we didn't do that, allowing Quinn Cook to hang 17 on us. Levi and company did a good job on the much hyped Rodney Hood, holding him to 8 points before he fouled out.
After falling down 18 early in the second half, it looked like we would be run out of the gym, but credit to Coach Grant and the players for continuing to fight and making it a somewhat competitive game. We started pressing more and was able to create a few turnovers. I also think Duke let up defensively a bit with the big lead, and we were able to take advantage. Nick Jacobs came off the bench to score 18 points and was a big reason why we were able to get back into the game. He seems to show up in the big games, I wish we could get more consistency out of him.
I felt like if we could ever get the lead down under 5 we would have a chance, but every time we cut it to 6 or 7, we would commit a stupid foul or blow an assignment on defense, or we would get the ball back and commit a dumb turnover. As an example, with around 2 minutes left we were down 7 and got a defensive stop, Algie got trapped in the back court, and nobody came to help him out. I would have burned a timeout there, but Algie tried to make a long pass into traffic that resulted in an easy dunk for Duke. Another key to the game was free throws: Duke made theirs while Retin was building houses.
We missed several shots at point blank range and several guys passed up open shots, especially when we got close, often times resulting in turnovers. Levi and Cooper were both particularly bad about this. To win the big games you have to have confidence that you can make the big plays, and we have some guys who seem to have confidence issues right now. Cooper's are justified somewhat, his shot has been awful this year, but Levi has been playing well and should have taken more shots.
We also needed a bigger game from Relly to pull this one off. The aforementioned foul trouble hurt him, but Duke also did a good job of extending the defense and denying him the ball, he never seemed to get into the flow of the game.
My biggest disappointment from this game has nothing to do with what actually happened on the court. The guys gave it their best try and I'm truly appreciative of their efforts and the way they represent our University. The most disappointing thing about this game is that it showcased the losing, second rate culture that permeates our basketball program. Three of the four schools involved in this highly regarded, nationally televised finals tournament brought pep bands to the event: Guess which one didn't? I'll give you a hint, it's the same school who told its season ticket holders that called the ticket office the day after they won their region that the school would not have tickets available for these games, only to send out an email the next day contradicting their statement. When Duke got out to the big lead, the majority of our fans in attendance did not seem to be bothered at all, they just resorted to the "we're still the best in football and that's all that matters" trash talk. I love the football team too, and I want to see ALL sports at UA succeed, but it's frustrating as someone who is passionate about basketball to see a revenue sport treated like an afterthought from seemingly everyone from the top of the athletic department down to a large part of the fan base, meanwhile even non-revenue sports like gymnastics, softball, and golf (all of which I'm very proud of), are succeeding and apparently not having to deal with the same sorts of issues. Until that culture changes, and it starts with the athletic department, we will never be a perennial top 25 type of team, much less a serious contender like Duke.
It seems like every time I go to Madison Square Garden, it gets better and better. They now have the best scoreboard in all of basketball, it's easy to read, gives all of the relevant stats, and has a huge high definition screen for replays and can easily be seen from every seat in the house. The lower bowl was mostly full, I would estimate around 150 or so Alabama fans to 7,000 Duke fans, with maybe about 1,000 or so Arizona fans who remained after their game. Drexel probably had close to 1,000 fans there for their fist game, being located in Philadelphia it's not a bad trip for them. Most of the Duke fans were classy, but we did encounter a handful of epic douchebags.
I want to thank the folks at the NYC chapter of the alumni association for being great hosts. They welcomed me to their pregame gathering and allowed me to sit with their group at the game. It was a pleasure meeting a couple of very knowledgeable and passionate Alabama basketball fans.
Up next, the Drexel Dragons. They almost beat Arizona, who I would argue looked like the best team in the nation coming into this tournament. I only saw a bit of that game, but they appear to have a good frontcourt and they look like a team that could be a bad matchup for us. I'm afraid our guys will still be down after the Duke game, and may have a hard time getting up for Drexel. Frankly, I don't feel good about this game, at all. In fact, when I got back from the Garden last night, I looked up options for changing my flight to come home today. Unfortunately, it was cost prohibitive, so I'm going to stick it out and go to the game and come home Saturday morning as originally planned. Tip-off is set for 3:30 EST.