Thursday, February 22, 2018

War Eagles make Tide look Feeble. Auburn 90 Alabama 71

Auburn looked like a real tiger and Bama was their prey last night.  The Tigers pounced hard on the Tide early, inflicting near fatal wounds, and then began to toss us around and play with us.  Every time we thought we might be getting away, they would inflict another serious injury and drag us back. Finally they pounced hard one last time, and devoured us late in the game.  With the win, auburn improves to 24-4, 12-3 atop the SEC standings, while Bama falls to 8-7, good for a 6-way tie for 3rd.

There are a number of factors that contributed to this humiliating loss, and most of them start with the Coach.  I know you all are probably tired of reading about the substitution patterns, but I was enraged when I walked into the arena and saw we were sticking with the same starting lineup.  We're playing a team with only 7 players, that lives and dies by the 3, yet we're starting our two bigs again?  Dan shouldn't be starting anyway, but particularly against a team like auburn.  The results were predictable, we spotted them 8 points and called a timeout.

Collin Sexton had a great game, as did Jared Harper for auburn.  The difference was Harper had some help from his teammates.  I thought AJ played hard, though not great, but he and Alex Reese gave us a spark in the first half.  We managed to weather the first storm and come back to tie the game at 30.  Collin made a buzzer beater to end the first half and cut the lead to 5.  We stayed within 2-5 points for the first 6 minutes of the second half, but when auburn stretched it to double digits around the ten minute mark, I felt like the team just ran out of gas and threw in the towel. 

We had a piss-poor gameplan and failed to make adjustments.  Playing on the road against the best 3-point shooting team in the conference, we decided to get into a 3 point shooting contest.  Both teams took half of their shots from beyond the arc.  auburn ran a tight zone, and I understand the thinking was to shoot them out of it or at least force them to extend, but when that doesn't work early on, you have to try something else.  We had a height advantage at every position, but there was almost no posting up.  I would have ran some high post sets. 

Defensively, the biggest problem was not getting in position to rebound, and frankly getting outworked even when we were in position.  Nobody wanted to secure the basketball.  A UAB friend of mine watching at home even sent me a text asking, "do your guys even know they are allowed to grab the basketball when auburn misses?"  Contrary to popular belief, auburn did not really torch us from the 3 point line.  They shot 35%, which is solid, but only slightly better than our 34%.  The problem is they were getting 3 or 4 shots at it per trip, particularly in their last run that put the game away.

I was especially disappointed in Donta Hall.  He's improved throughout the year and I thought this would be a very favorable matchup for him, but he totally disappeared.  He finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds, and was dominated on both ends of the court by Chuma Okeke.  We tried putting Reese in, but they exploited the defensive matchup on 3 straight possessions, so we had to go back to an ineffective and seemingly unmotivated Donta.  With the exceptions of AJ and Sexton, I thought the defensive effort was poor.  auburn was driving to the basket at will, and our rotations were slow, leading to wide open shots on the kick outs. 

In addition to getting worked on the boards again, we continued to turn the ball over.  Key's turnovers were particularly egregious.  It's not just that he telegraphs his passes and allows defenders to jump them, on at least two occasions he inexplicably just threw the ball directly to the defender.  I've seen about enough of him trying to run the point forward. 

In addition to the bad passes, we also missed a lot of opportunities for easy buckets.  On our very fist possession, JP was wide open in the corner, jumping up and down, but Dazon didn't see him and that ended up with a Dan turnover.  In retrospect, maybe that wasn't such a great opportunity given the way JP shot.  I'm normally a proponent of "keep shooting with confidence and they'll eventually start to go down," but at some point you have to realize it's not your night and try something else.  Also, I can think of at least 3 or 4 instances where Braxton or Donta were WIDE OPEN under the basket because the au defense blew an assignment, but either Herb, Dazon, or AJ didn't see them because they were too busy dribbling around the perimeter with their heads down. 

When we did get the ball into the paint, we failed to capitalize.  Herb missed a layup that would have cut the lead to 5 just before au's big run.  Our bigs either got stripped, or put the ball on the floor to be stolen by the smaller, quicker defenders.  Auburn had 14 steals, and we ended up with 17 turnovers.  As usual we were brick masons at the line, 14 of 22. 

In conclusion, we were out-coached, out-hustled, and out-played.  We had a terrible game plan, sloppy ball-handling leading to too many turnovers, dominated on the glass by a smaller team, and couldn't make a free throw.

Bruce Pearl may be a fat sleazebag, but he's a very good basketball coach.  He's about to win the SEC regular season championship with maybe the 5th most talented squad in the league, and some glaring weaknesses. 

I was not able to find our postgame show on the radio, but I understand CAJ said something to the effect of "well, I guess this just evens up the series, right?"  It's probably a good thing I wasn't able to hear those comments, I may have drove my car into the nearest ditch.  "Buckle up," Indeed.

The small but nice arena was packed out with mostly loud, rabid auburn fans.  It was a good atmosphere and I think their team definitely fed off of it.  There was a fewer percentage of Bama fans there than we had in Lexington, I don't think we had more than a couple hundred, though there may have been more in the upper level that wasn't visible from my seat.  Remember all the nice things I said about the experience in Kentucky?  Yeah, everything is pretty much the exact opposite in auburn.  Their fans were rude and their basketball knowledge woefully lacking.  In fairness, I probably brought some of it on myself by wearing my "2017 CFB National Champions" t-shirt along with a crimson "FBI" hat.  Many of them don't have much of a sense of humor.  We ate at an establishment near Toomer's corner before the game and got horrible service at the bar.  The less-than-average food came quickly enough, but we had to wait 10 minutes to get silverware.  After waiting over 15 minutes for the check, and fearing I would miss tip-off, I left just enough cash to cover food and drinks and walked out.  I'm sure he's telling all his auburn buddies about the "jack-ass Alabama fans that don't tip," but I'm always a 20% minimum tipper, and gladly would have despite the poor service if we weren't willfully ignored. 

At the game, when Dazon drew a blocking foul because the official ruled the aubie defender was inside the circle, the guy sitting next to me says, "you have to admit that's a terrible call."  I said, "it was on the other end of the court, I couldn't see, let's watch the replay."  We both watch the replay, and neither angle shows the defenders feet OR the circle.  "He's way outside the circle!  That's a BS call!"  I just rolled my eyes, it's not even worth conversing with some people.  Another guy sitting near me was actually very nice and expressed disappointment in their fans booing while our SGA president tried to give a classy speech starting with "the schools go back to being teammates as soon as the game is over."    He asked me about several of our players, but when I would ask him about their guys he didn't even know what class they were in or where they were from.  As I was walking out of the arena with 4 minutes still left to play, a mid 50s overweight gentleman grabbed his crotch and yelled "Suck this tiger dick" in my direction.  I politely declined and congratulated him on the win.  I didn't even mind the profanity, but at least have more originality than to rip off an LSU student section chant.  It's actually kind of amusing when the drunk college kids do it in Baton Rouge, but not so much from an old, fat redneck who probably doesn't even have a properly functioning that-part-of-his-anatomy anyway.  To their credit, another auburn fan immediately called him out on it and apologized to me. 

As bad as this was, it's only one game, and we've bounced back before this year.  Up next, a very good Arkansas comes to Tuscaloosa for a 5pm tipoff on the SEC network Saturday.  We still need at least one, preferably two wins to feel great about selection Sunday.  This is when the team needs fan support the most.  Let's pack the house for the last two games and give our guys a push like the auburn crowd did last night. 

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