Saturday, February 28, 2015

Commodores Conquer Crimson, 73-66

Well, at least this game was different.  Normally we spend the first half setting the game of basketball back a few decades.  Today, we played arguably the best half of basketball we have all year in the first half.  We had great spacing and ball movement on offense, played at a reasonably fast tempo, took care of the basketball, and generally defended well.

The second half was more like every game we've seen in Memorial Gymnasium the last 30 years or so.  Every questionable call went against us, and Vandy made just about every 3 and free throw they took.  The names and players change but the script stays the same.

I think our lack of depth caught up with us in the second half.  We only went 8 deep, including Dakota Slaughter who played 7 minutes and made a three.  I do not understand why Devin Mitchell did not get into the game.

Vandy made 5 straight from downtown to start the second half and erase our 14 point lead.  It would have been nice to call a timeout at some point and try to stop their momentum and maybe give our guys a breather.

Kessens was a question mark but he was able to play, and I thought he played well, scoring 10 points in his 15 minutes.  Retin, Levi, and Coop all stepped up and played well.  Unfortunately, Riley had an off day when we badly needed him to take up the slack from missing Shannon Hale.

Even though we out-rebounded them, we failed to get the boards when needed.  I thought a key possession in the game came with about 6 minutes left after we cut their lead down to 4.  We allowed Vandy to score on their third opportunity, then Levi had a bad turnover at the other end which led to another Vandy score.  Give credit to the Dores for making the plays and being automatic from the free throw line down the stretch.

Kudos to the Nashville area Bama fans for representing and the North Alabama contingent who made the trip.  I could hear you guys over the television when things were going well in the first half.

Up next, the Ole Miss Rebels come in for a 6 pm tipoff Tuesday night at Coleman Coliseum.  It's the last home game of the season, so if you can do so, please come out and show your appreciation for seniors Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Revenge Meat- @ Vanderbilt 4PM EST (3PM CST) FSN

17-11 (7-8) visits 16-12 (6-9) in a NIT implication matchup. We NEED to win today to maintain the all-time series edge as it is 67-66 our way right now. We also need to win today if we want to have a chance at finishing .500 in the conference.

Vanderbilt has won 3 of their last 4... including the embarrassing road win at Coleman 2 weeks ago.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Levi Randolph Named Academic All-American; Ricky Tarrant Out for Season

As someone who was, shall we say, an average student, Levi's accomplishment today of being named the first Academic All-American in Alabama basketball history is something that I find extremely impressive. Being a student alone has it's share of challenges. Being an athlete on top of that is even more challenging. Congratulations to Levi for being able to balance the pressures in the classroom along with his responsibilities as a basketball player. He's been a class act and a great representative for the university.


It was also announced today that Ricky Tarrant will undergo season-ending surgery. Ricky has plantar fasciitis and what was referred to as a "bony prominence" on his knee which will also require surgery. Hopefully he will be able to make a full recovery and return next year for his senior season.

Other injury news: looks like Shannon Hale is out for Saturday's game at Vanderbilt as a result of that foot injury that occurred on Tuesday night. No word on the severity of the injury, but I've got a bad feeling we may not see Shannon return this season either. Grant says Mike Kessens is day-to-day, and will be a game-time decision on Saturday. In other words, Alabama could be playing very small ball for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Short Handed Bama Beats Cocks

Bama overcame another slow start and a bunch of injuries to get the win.  Ricky Tarrant remains out with his foot injury, Mike Kessens was a late scratch for some type of injury, I can only assume it's his knee that has been bothering him at times throughout the year, and Shannon Hale hurt his foot early in the second half.  This left us incredibly short, but the remaining players made the necessary plays to win.

We started out in a 10-3 hole in yet another painful to watch first half.  The pace was slow and South Carolina was very physical on defense.  We ran into problems on numerous occasions late in the shot clock.  Thankfully, we actually shot well from the perimeter which allowed us to draw even at halftime, 22-22, and build a lead early in the second half.  

It looked like the game was going to take a turn for the worse when Jimmie Taylor picked up his 4th foul with 12 minutes to play in the game.  We had an 8 point lead at the time, but with Kessens already out with an injury this left us with no big men.  Predictably, USCe murdered us on the glass.  They outrebounded Alabama by 10, and 17-6 on the offensive glass.  With Jimmie on the bench, it seemed like the Cocks could pound the ball inside and score every possession.  

Thankfully, our guys had the answer.  We managed to keep it close until Taylor got back in the game late and provided us with some stops and rebounds.  Levi bounced back from his awful game against UGA and scored 17 points while playing 38 minutes.  I thought he made some key baskets for us down the stretch.  Retin had another solid game with 14 points and Coop also bounced back with 11 points, including a couple of dunks that awakened the small gathering of spectators and gave us some momentum.  

Another big improvement from the UGA game came at the charity stripe.  We made 9 of our last 10 free throws to put the game away in the final minutes.  

As an official, I really dislike Ted Valentine's antics on the court.  Good officials are the ones you never notice.  In dealing with coaches, you should recognize that it is a passionate game, give them some reasonable leeway to vent and complain, and answer questions and communicate in a professional manner.  Teddy goes out of his way to draw attention to himself every time he makes a call.  In the first half, Coach Grant apparently noticed the same thing that I did, and said something to the officials about Carolina's excessive hand-checking in their man-to-man defense.  Grant was not making a scene, nor asking for a response.  Teddy felt the need to delay putting the ball in play and approach Grant, yelling at him loudly enough that I could clearly hear him say repeatedly, "your guys are doing the same thing, you really don't want me to start calling that."  At another point, after he made a questionable call against us, and we were setting up the press at the other end of the court, he walked all the way down in front of our bench before taking his rightful spot in front of the SC bench to officiate the press.  

The crowd was pathetic.  I would estimate no more than 4,000 or so there, and they were generally not very passionate nor knowledgeable.  At one point I overheard someone who had moved down from the rafters sitting near us explain to his child why we got the ball on a back-court violation.  The problem is, the officials called a 10 second violation on that particular play.  The Stars Wars theme could not have been a bigger bust.  Between the small disinterested crowd and creepy people wandering around aimlessly dressed as Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers, it had the atmosphere of a minor league baseball game without the cheap beer.  And I say that as someone who loves minor league baseball, but it's not an ideal environment for a college basketball contest.  They simultaneously had a "wear blue for diabetes awareness" campaign that was announced less than 24 hrs before the contest and was basically a flop.  I'm all for supporting a good cause, but unless I knew it would magically make us play like Kentucky, I'm not wearing blue to a UA basketball game.  

Up next, another shot at revenge, as we travel to our house of horrors in Nashville to take on Vandy in Memorial gym.  The game will start at 3pm and will be televised on FSN.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2nd Chance Meat- SC Cocks part 2 7PM EST (6PM CST)

Despite the 4-10 conference record, SC Lite seems to be improved. Of their 10 conference losses, 4 of them have been by 6 points or less. Sounds similar doesn't it?

Link to previous preview

Sunday, February 22, 2015

UGA wins Ugly, 66-65.

As ugly as this game was, I actually thought we played with good effort and at a decent pace.  It was ugly for different reasons, primarily because both teams seemed to commit a lot of unforced turnovers and neither team could put the ball in the basket.

While I have some minor issues with Coach Grant's decisions regarding timeouts in this game, this loss isn't on him.  We were atrocious at the free throw line, and that is where the game was lost.

Retin stepped up and made a couple of huge pull up contested 3s down the stretch.  He had his usual moments of being out of control, but I thought he played well overall.  If nothing else, he was at least aggressive, which we were missing from Levi and Coop.  I thought Shannon Hale also regressed in this game.  He scored 8 points, but had some bad turnovers and was a liability on defense.  Conversely, Riley Norris had one of his best games of the season with 14 points and 5 rebounds.  I wish we would have run him through some screens to try to get him more open shots later in the game.

Mark Fox did us a huge favor by grabbing the official to argue for a foul after Retin blocked a shot late in the game.  That technical foul led to a 4 point play giving us a 2 point lead with 2 minutes to go.  Unfortunately, we just could not close out the game at the free throw line.

Give credit to UGA for making a great shot to take the lead on their last possession.  I question why we didn't call timeout when Retin dropped his head and it was obvious that he was going to charge full speed to the basket despite being 1 on 3.  We could have stopped the clock with 3 or 4 seconds left and had more options.  There's no excuse for pump faking with 1 second remaining, especially for a senior coming out of a timeout.

There was a surprisingly decent crowd on hand; I would estimate about 7,500, with UGA bringing about 400 or so of their own fans.  The crowd was into the game and loud at key times.  It was also good to see Senario Hillman in attendance.

Up next, we look for revenge against the South Carolina Gamecocks, as they come to Tuscaloosa for a 6 pm tipoff Tuesday night.  It's "Star Wars Night."  I'm not sure who we are paying in the marketing department to come up with these things, but they are stealing money.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.  May the force be with you.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Fresh Meat- UGA Bulldogs @ 8PM EST (7PM CST) on ESPN2

Just when you want to write off the season we play quite possibly the best game we have all season at the barn and now have a chance to play our way into the NCAAT. Yes, we have said this a few times this year only to lose one we shouldn't, BUT THIS TIME WE MEAN IT!

Win 4 of the next 5 and I dare say we are probably playing in Dayton minus a SECT disaster. I'm not sure what that says for the rest of college basketball that we are in the discussion, but whatever.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bama Burns Bruce-Bowers-Barners, 79-68

The stage was set.  Bruce Pearl had been hyping this game all year, talking about how he wants to beat Alabama more than anybody else.  It was our first trip there with him as coach, and the 9,000 seat arena had long been sold out.    They even planted new trees, with plans to vandalize their own campus in celebration of declaring supremacy in the state of Alabama in the sport of basketball with a victory over the Tide.  Maybe they can use all of that toilet paper to dry their tears, because this is still our state.

If you haven't seen the post-game celebration, do yourself a favor.  This team and Coach Grant have been through a lot, and it's great to see them having fun.  I particularly enjoyed the flex, which was a clear mocking of Bowers' taunt during the game, for which he should have been assessed a technical foul.

This was arguably the best game we've played all year, especially when you consider Ricky Tarrant was out.  We simply out worked them most of the night, especially on the boards.  Taylor and Kessens combined for 15 rebounds.  We actually shot the ball well, going 9 of 21 from 3 point range, but more importantly we didn't rely exclusively on the perimeter shot.  We actually played at a decent tempo, and I would like to see us play at this pace more often going forward.

The team showed great poise in a very hostile environment.  Things could have gotten out of hand early, when Kessens was the victim of a horrible illegal pick call from the officials.  Mike set a great screen, the barners failed to communicate and the smaller auburn player ran into him full speed and fell down as if he just hit a brick wall, which metaphorically he did.  Coach Grant rightfully argued the call, and was called for a technical foul.  auburn led 13-7, but we immediately answered with a 7-0 run to regain the lead.  I suspect Coach Grant intended to draw the technical to let his team know that he had their backs.  None of us are happy with the overall results to this point in the season, but nobody can question that these guys are still fighting hard for their coach.

Levi has struggled in auburn throughout his career, but stepped up and had a huge game with 19 points.  Hale, Coop, and Retin also scored in the double digits and Justin Coleman had a great game with 9 points and no turnovers.

We had one stretch late in the first half where we turned the ball over too much, which allowed auburn to take a 3 point lead into the half.  We were much better in the second half and eventually pulled away late.

The coverage of this game by ESPNU was brutal.  I wouldn't have even known the first foul was called on Jimmie Taylor if not for keeping up with twitter.  The football references were too frequent, and frankly insulting to those of us who cherish the game of basketball.  And enough about the stupid trees.  I'm truly sorry that poor Bubba Bowling didn't have anywhere to throw his ass-wipes for a year, but can we move on already?

Obviously, this win does not change anything that I wrote after the Vanderbilt game.  I still feel like the minimum expectations for this season should have been to make the NCAA tournament.  I still don't think we have a chance of accomplishing that, short of a miracle run through the SEC tournament in Nashville.  At this point, we are simply playing for seeding in the SEC tournament.  All of that being said, it's great to beat your in-state rivals on the road and set them back a bit.

Up next, the Georgia Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa for a 7pm tip-off Saturday night.  This is your last chance to catch a home game on the weekend.  The Dogs are hard to figure, they've looked like a lock and one of the top 3 teams in the league most of the season, but have lost 2 straight at home to auburn and South Carolina.  The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Regurgitated meat- @ Auburn 9PM EST (8PM CST) on ESPNU

Rivalry game part 2... blah blah blah. 5-7 visits 4-8 where 4-8 has lost 4 straight home games. Another 50/50 game here, but let's be honest... unless we win out, this one is for the top 2nd half of the SEC standings supremacy.

Auburn comes in losers of 6 of their last 8, but did win in Athens in their last contest.

Link to previous preview.

We won a squeaker in the 1st matchup, so I expect another one tonight. Two evenly matched teams.

This post is more a spot for comments. I'll be watching this one at a bar... I suggest you all drink heavily as it will probably be ugly (the game itself, not the point differential).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fight the Future or A Brief Soliloquy on the Search for a Coach

 "In this bright future you can't forget your past." - Bob Marley

I don't want to bog the blog down with massive amounts of coaching carousel discussions, at least not until a coaching change is actually made. However, things look dire at this moment in time. Most basketball fans, and even non-basketball fans who just don't like that Bammer is losing at something, have already written the season and Anthony Grant off. The popular opinion right now, said or unsaid, is that Grant is facing his final weeks as the head coach of the basketball program.

Maybe that's true. Call me nuts (no doubt many of you already have), but I still believe this team can salvage something from this season. Will it be an NCAA berth? Likely not. But I'm not yet sold that this team is ready to pack it in and let the wheels fall off completely. Tuesday night will be a strong indicator if this team has any guts left. Bama and Auburn fans are already expecting a beatdown in front of a raucous Auburn crowd hoping to beat Alabama at something in the course of  the past 12 months, which they've yet to do. In the meantime, for the sake of discussion, in the event that things go from bad to worse and a coaching change is made, who are five realistic options (please note: i wrote "realistic options") that the university can pursue?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Vandy 76 Bama 68

Vanderbilt, currently the 13th place team out of 14 SEC teams, came into Coleman Coliseum and got their first SEC road win of the season, effectively extinguishing any faint remaining hope we may have held about making the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid.

Vandy is better than their record,  but they are still a bad team and this was a bad loss, especially at home.  Even without Tarrant, we are the more skilled and talented team and should not lose to those guys.

Regardless of Vanderbilt's talent level, it seems like there are a few things you can always count on when we play the Dores.  First, regardless of their stats coming in, if we leave them open on the perimeter, they will make 3's.  Secondly, they will get the majority of the calls from the officials.  Finally, they will execute their half-court offense with precision.  This game was no different.

We played fairly well in the first half and actually controlled the game on the glass.  Despite Levi not having a great first half, we were in position to take a 6 or 7 point lead into the half, with Retin on the line shooting 1 and 1 with 10 seconds left.  Instead, he missed the front end, we got beat down the court, picked up a foul and Kessens' said something to pick up a technical foul.  Of course Vandy hit all 4 free throws to cut the lead to 1.  With 2.3 seconds left and facing a press, we decided to throw the ball long and over everybody's head out-of-bounds, despite the fact that we still had the "use it or lose it" timeout.  We still managed to limp into the locker room with a 1 point lead.

Vandy attacked the basket and got to the free throw line in the second half.  While there were a few bad calls, I think most of the fouls on us were good calls.  We were constantly out of position on defense, and while we shot the ball well offensively, making 11 of 24 from three-point range, we generally did not play aggressively enough to get to the line.

Our press has been ineffective most of the year, but it seemed to bother Vandy when we finally decided to utilize it.  Unfortunately, we waited till late in the first half to do so, and did not press enough in the second half in my opinion.  I would have pressed them most of the game, and settled into a zone if and when they beat it.  There was a stretch in the second half where we had Riley and Kessens in the game, but insisted on playing a man to man defense.  Riley couldn't keep up with his man while chasing him around the perimeter, and Kessesns was late to help when he got beat driving to the basket.

For once, Jimmie Taylor managed to stay out of foul trouble, and I thought he played really well when he was in the game in the first half. He had 7 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes.  If anybody has a good explanation for why he only played 19 minutes despite only picking up 3 fouls, particularly when he's our only reliable defender around the rim, as Vandy's Damian Jones scored at will on us in the second half, I would love to hear it.  It makes absolutely no sense for Jimmie Taylor's butt to be glued to the bench for nearly the entire second half.  Inexplicably not playing Jimmie Taylor for most of the game, poor defensive set calling (not pressing enough and too much man), and the cluster-you-know-what at the end of the first half were the key ingredients in this embarrassing loss.

If you are looking for some positives, as mentioned above we actually shot the ball well.  We out rebounded them, but they dominated the boards in the final minutes when the game was on the line.  Levi bounced back and had a great second half, finishing with 15 points.  Hale had another good game with 10 points and 6 boards.  Retin played well in his return, also scoring 10 points and making some great plays on defense.  The effort from the players was good, and that's never been an issue with this team.  I really do appreciate how they play the game and represent our University.  We are fortunate to have these guys. Nevertheless, the inexplicable strategies employed and nonsensical substitution patterns which led to this ridiculous loss are unacceptable and inexcusable.

The crowd was surprisingly decent for two bad teams playing on Valentine's night.  I would estimate around 7,000 or so, and they invited the folks in the rafters to move down and sit closer to the court, which at least enhanced the atmosphere, if not the basketball knowledge of those sitting in my immediate vicinity.  It was good to see Trevor Releford and Ben Eblen in attendance.  For what it's worth, Bill Battle also showed up, and he seems to be becoming a regular now that football signing day is over. Given that he's the athletic director and Men's basketball is one of two revenue sports, I would argue that he should be a regular from day one, but I digress.

Up next, we go to auburn to take on scumbag Bruce Pearl's tigers/eagles/plainsmen/village idiots or whatever they want to be called these days.  They are a crappy team, but they've got a couple of good players and there's no doubt they will play dirty and take a win-at-all-costs approach to this game. It will likely be the most difficult road environment we've played in all year.  The game tips off at 8 pm CST Tuesday night on ESPNU.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fresh Meat- Vanderbilt 8PM EST (7PM CST) on ESPNU

Well... the good news is Vanderbilt hasn't won a road SEC game this year. They kinda stank so even a bit shorthanded I don't think we lose this one. Vandy is 3-8 in conference and 13-11 overall. The consensus is Kevin Stallings is one of the 4 best coaches in the SEC, but I think he's been there too long and is starting to mail it in. He probably needs to move on as well as Vanderbilt, but that's a discussion for the end of the season.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bama Beats Bulldogs 55-51

This will be short, as I watched this game on TV and the day job is requiring most of my time this week.  Thankfully, Kessens was able to play, but Tarrant and Retin were still out.  Levi stepped up and did a good job of running point and adding 13 points.  Shannon Hale had one of his best games of the season, and I think he may be about to have a strong finish.  Hale finished with 14, and Coop had a nice game with 9 points including a late 3-pointer that appeared to ice the game.  I thought Devin Mitchell looked a lot more comfortable in the game than he did against LSU.

To say this was an ugly game is an understatement.  The teams combined for 26 turnovers and both shot under 20% from 3-point range.  State played a zone most of the game, and we made little effort to attack the basket, jacking up 27 from downtown, even though we only made 5.  I said before the season I thought we had the potential to be a good 3-point shooting team.  Clearly, I was wrong.  I know we don't have the strongest post presence, but when it becomes obvious that the shots aren't falling, we need to utilize the dribble drive more.  Literally half of our shots were from 3-point range, and at 18% that's not going to cut it against a decent team.

We had an 8 point lead and the ball with about 50 seconds left, and somehow turned the ball over, twice, giving state a 4-0 run in less than 5 seconds.  Then out of the time-out, against a 2-2-1 press, we in-bound the ball to Riley in the corner knowing he would get trapped.  I like Riley, but he's not the strongest with the ball or the quickest ball-handler.  We were very fortunate that did not result in another turnover.  We made just enough free throws down the stretch to avoid disaster.

Up next, a Valentine's Date with Vandy in Coleman Coliseum at 7pm Saturday.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fresh Meat- @ Mississippi St 9PM EST (8PM CST) on SECN

Winner gets closer to .500 in conference, the loser is probably looking at the bottom third of the SEC as its future. State is 11-12 overall, but they have been playing much better as of late. Minus the blowout loss to Arkansas they have been within double digits in their last 7 games (winning 4 of them). They have won @ Auburn and @ Tennessee.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Bayou Bengals Bury Bama, 71-60

With Retin out due to a hand injury, we were down to only one point guard, true freshman Justin Coleman.  Levi helped run the point and did a nice job.

Once again, we looked flat in the first half.  If LSU could make a free throw, the game would have been decided well before halftime.  Instead, we went to the locker room feeling fortunate to only be down 30-20.  The Tigers were hot to start the second half, stretching their lead to 17 before we answered with a run to cut the margin down to 2 with 9 minutes left.  LSU called timeout, Shannon Hale fell asleep on defense in the zone allowing an alley-oop dunk which got the crowd back into the game, we failed to score for the next 4 minutes while LSU slowly but methodically built their lead back up to double-digits, and that was that.

I did not agree with the game plan from either coach.  As noted above, we only had one PG who was a true freshman, if I were an LSU fan I would be asking why they never really tried to press us.  Conversely, a blind man could see that LSU had a huge advantage in the post.  When you are severely out-manned down low, the last thing you want is a slow-paced, half court game.  Yet for some reason, we routinely passed on open shots to run the shot clock down to the final 5 seconds.  We should have pressed more and ran more, in my opinion.

Levi had another great game with 17 points.  Riley dropped a double-dozen with 12 rebounds and points.  Shannon contributed with 14 points, but I would argue that he did not have a very good game.  He had 4 turnovers, 2 of which were right underneath our own basket leading to easy LSU scores, plus the missed assignment on defense that led to the dunk which was a defining moment in the game.

Devin Mitchell played, and now I see why he hasn't been getting more playing time.  He looked completely lost out there. I still think he can be a good player for us in the future, but he's clearly still adjusting to the speed of the college game.  Even though they didn't have great games, I think this experience will help both Devin and Justin Coleman get better.

They only had about 6,000 fans in attendance.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon during Mardi Gras season, so I wasn't too surprised by their lacking attendance.  I counted 28 Alabama fans, notably including Bill Battle who made the trip.  The LSU fans were generally polite and welcoming. In the concourse at halftime, a 7 or 8 year old kid came up to me and said, "you guys are really really good at football, but not so much at basketball."  The father apologized, but I thought it was funny.  I told the father his son was exactly right, and told the kid that I support all of our teams, good or bad, and he should do the same for LSU.  I was surprised to hear that Johnny Jones is not really catching much heat down there.  The general consensus among the Tiger fans that we talked to is that his recruiting is so good they are willing do deal with his questionable in-game coaching decisions.

The seemingly lack of commitment to basketball at LSU is sad and disappointing.  They have a great tradition, 4 final four appearances, and have produced some of the greatest players in the game's history in Pistol Pete and Shaq.  The P-Mac is an average-at-best facility. From the concourse, the sections aren't labeled, but each portal has large wooden doors and is assigned a number.  The problem, the tickets only print the section number, and not the portal entrance, so it's necessary to consult one of the posted maps to match your section number to your portal before locating your seats.  The floor throughout most of the building was sticky and felt unclean, and the seats lack cup holders. On the positive side, the configuration is great, unlike our arena at least all seats do actually face the court, and the fans are generally close to the action.

Up next, we make the short trip down Highway 82 to take on the surprising Mississippi State bulldogs in Starkville.  I honestly think we would have to win every remaining regular season game to be in the conversation on selection Sunday, so they are all "must wins" at this point.  The game will tip off at 8pm on the SEC network.

Finally, while not Alabama related, I must offer my condolences to the family of the late Coach Dean Smith and the North Carolina family.  Regardless of how you may feel about UNC, as basketball fans we all lost a great one this weekend.  He was a class act and a truly innovative coach, and will be missed.  

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Fresh Meat- @ LSU Tigers at 6PM EST (5PM CST)

4-5 Bama goes into 5-4 LSU in a game that can define one's NCAAT hopes or put another one's as a somewhat possible idea. LSU is coming off a home loss to legendary coach Bruce Pearl and Auburn. Maybe we can surprise them as well.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tide Tops Tigers, 62-49.

This game looked like a lot of our wins earlier in the season, slow and sloppy at times, but a strong finish to finally put the game away.

Mizzou actually jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, but we were able to bounce back and take a narrow 26-24 lead into halftime.  For the first 30 minutes or so of the game, it seemed like we couldn't finish around the rim, couldn't make our free throws, and had too many unforced turnovers.  Our saving grace was that Mizzou played even worse.  I think I counted 6 air-balls from them in this game, and even more unforced turnovers of their own.

With the shots not falling, we started attacking the basket and were able to get to the line, where we made our free throws down the stretch.  As expected, Ricky Tarrant did not play.  He was limping, but at least is off the c

Levi had another great game.  I thought his 3 pointer with about 9 minutes left to stretch the lead to 8 was one of the key plays in the game.  It was a slow, methodical game, and with the Mizzou's poor shooting the lead seemed nearly insurmountable.  Retin played with great effort on both ends of the floor, and contributed with 12 points and 8 rebounds.  Shannon Hale started again and had another great game. He scored 10 points, but more importantly he stepped up and played great defense, a part of his game that has been lacking this year.  He's strung together a couple of good games now, so hopefully his slump is over and the momentum will continue.  Jimmie Taylor managed to stay on the court; we will need him to do the same Saturday if we have any chance.

We are a much better team than Mizzou.  I'm never one to complain about a win, but this game should not have been in doubt with 8 or 9 minutes remaining.  I believe we could have run them out of the gym if we would have forced the tempo a bit.  Frankly, this game was painfully boring to watch.

The crowd was as bad as I can ever remember for an SEC game.  I would estimate there was no more than 5,000 there.  Mizzou probably had about 150 fans scattered throughout, including their cheerleaders who inexplicably made the trip to sit way up in one of the corners.  The atmosphere was dead and quiet, with many fans around us openly discussing their desire for a coaching change.  For the first time all season, I spotted Bill Battle at a home game.  The only other basketball game I'm aware of him attending was the one in Knoxville.  I suppose now that the important business of obsessing over where 17 year old football players will attend college has concluded, he can turn his attention to hoops for a couple of weeks.

Up next, our Feline diet continues as we are served with another portion of Tiger Meat, this time of the Bayou Bengal variety in Baton Rouge.  It's a horrible matchup for us, as they have a dominant front-court, but a win would at least temporarily restore some hope to the season.  Tip-off is set for 5 pm on ESPN2.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Fresh Meat- Mizzou @ 9PM EST (8PM CST) on the SECN

After the tough stretch we went through (1-5 in those games) we get quite possibly the worst team in the SEC AT HOME to recover with. I'm not sure where this Mizzou team stands history wise, but they got to be one of the worst ones the last 30 years. Even Quinn Snyder's last team was better than this I think. You can blame Frank Haith for this.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Ruptured in Rematch at Rupp, UK 70 UA 55

This game was more or less a formality.  The outcome was predetermined long before tipoff, and everybody in that gym knew what the end result would be.  Nevertheless, our guys gave it a great effort and didn't embarrass themselves, which was really all we could realistically hope for.

With Ricky Tarrant on the sidelines on crutches, we went with a starting lineup of Retin, Levi, Shannon, Coop, and Taylor. I really wasn't crazy about this lineup because Retin has been less than reliable at point guard and Shannon has struggled all season, to say the least.  Both of those guys turned in very solid performances though.  Retin finished with 11 points and Shannon with 12, and both did a reasonably decent job of holding onto the basketball.

The first 10 minutes or so were pretty bad, as we looked a little intimidated and had several turnovers which led to easy UK points.  We took an early 2-0 lead, but that would be our last lead of the night.  Once again we struggled with turnovers early in the game.  I know it was literally impossible to win this game, but I did not like our game plan.  I thought we wasted too much time trying to work the ball inside or attack the basket, which is an exercise in futility against a team that is the second largest in ALL OF BASKETBALL (Only the Portland Trailblazers are longer).

As we stated before our first game with them, our only hope is to get hot and hope they have an off night.  UK shot 7 of 15 from downtown.  They built their lead, then did just enough to maintain a comfortable margin.

On the bright side, as mentioned above Hale had a good game, and maybe he will start to play more like the Shannon Hale of last season.  I thought Levi played extremely well, he was the aggressive Levi we need.  Retin actually played under control and did not turn the ball over.  Jimmie Taylor managed to stay on the court, and despite being severely over-matched, Justin Coleman managed to give us 20 solid minutes at pg with only a single turnover.  Rebounding has been a huge issue this year, but we somehow managed to win the battle on the boards against the Cats, who are probably the best rebounding team in the nation.

I thought the officials called too many touch fouls on both teams that negatively effected the flow of the game. Even the Kentucky fans were complaining about some of the foul calls that went against us.

It was a hard sell out and a packed house, but their fans really weren't as loud and into the game as I've heard them in some previous trips.  They all know they have a special team and it was obvious from the tip that we weren't much of a threat.  They did get loud in a couple of situations when it looked like we might be closing the gap.

I know I've said this before here, but if you've never been to a game at Rupp Arena, as a college basketball fan you need to go at least once if at all possible.  The atmosphere and passion they have for the game and their team is second to none, but even more impressive to me is how they support their team in a first class manner.  We were the only Alabama fans in our entire section, proudly wearing our Crimson knowing we were likely to be on the losing end of a blowout, but we couldn't have felt more welcome.  Everyone shared their experiences with the state of AL with us, complimented our football program, thanked us for visiting, etc.   At dinner before the game, a UK fan came up to our table to welcome us to Lexington and chat basketball, the people around us at the game allowed us to support our team and we never felt the slightest bit uneasy or intimidated for cheering for our team.  After the game, many of their fans complimented our team's effort.  They seemed to be particularly impressed with Levi Randolph.  I hate to kick open this ant hill, but given the number of times we heard it I think it bears noting, that Kentucky fans generally believe that we have a good coach in Anthony Grant.  Without offering an opinion, I note that I'm surprised at the great difference in perception on the subject outside of the state of Alabama versus here.  Many of their fans were disappointed and surprised to learn that he is on the hot seat.

Rupp Arena itself is not really that nice.  The scoreboards are in the corners and have a layout that takes some getting used to. The flat-screens hanging in front of the upper level help with replays, but the sound system consists of a conglomerate of  horn speakers hung above center court (where you would normally expect a scoreboard/video board).  The upper level seats are benches with no chair backs.  They had a $300 million renovation project planned, but that has been put on hold.  We were told the University president did not want to chip in because he wants to explore the possibility of building something on campus.  For those that don't know, Rupp Arena is in downtown Lexington but is in VERY close proximity to the campus (less than a mile).  I understand the desire to be on campus, but the proximity to hotels, bars, and restaurants makes for a great atmosphere, and I hope they retain that.  Most of the UK fans we talked to seemed to be in favor of staying in Rupp.

Up next, we return home to take on the Mizzou Tigers Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa. Finally, the brutal stretch of January is over and maybe we can still turn this thing around.  The game will tip off at 8 pm on SEC Network.