Alabama survived a scare at home to improve to 12-7 (4-2) with a hard fought win over the Kansas State Wildcats in the SEC/Big 12 challenge. The conferences fought to a tie this year, with each winning 5 games.
On the positive side, we found a way to win, yet again, despite not playing a great game. We also managed to win a close game, which is something we've struggled with to this point. On the other hand, the sloppy ball handling continued to be an issue, and we were dominated on the boards, and we're going to have to clean up those areas against the better teams on our schedule.
It was a sluggish start, with K-State mostly controlling the tempo and the game for most of the first half. Nevertheless, you had to feel like eventually we would go on a run to take control of the game, and we finally did, but not until the second half. K-State led by 1 at the half, but we took the lead early in the second half and never relinquished it, although they had several chances to go back on top. We went on a big run between the 16 and 12 minute marks in the second half to build a 16 point lead, but then we went cold and allowed the Wildcats to chip away and claw their way back into the game. They had the ball with a one possession deficit several times late in the game, but we got the stops when needed and made just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on.
JP was called for a technical foul early in the second half, and by all accounts all he did was roll the ball to the official. That was his fourth foul, and even though he wasn't having his best game, I thought that really contributed to the rebounding discrepancy as JP has been one of our better rebounders. Credit to Shack and others on the bench for stepping up and going on a big run right after JP's unjust technical.
Not sure if they showed it on TV, but at one point after a K-State player fouled up, while the players were huddling with their respective coaches on the floor, one of the K-State guys tried to walk into our huddle during the 20 second delay that the coach has to designate his substitute. The officials handled it well and got him out of there, but that's the kind of Busch league stuff that makes it no surprise they got into an embarrassing brawl with their superior in-state rival in their last game.
Kira proved his point after being benched by Bruce Weber on the national team. He ended up with 26 points and 7 rebounds. All of the other starters, Alex, Herb, Shack, and JP all were in double-digits with 11 or 10 points each. Kira made his point, and then hugged Bruce Weber after the game. For his part, Weber said all of the right things after the game as well. They both handled the situation respectfully and with class, in my opinion.
The biggest issue with this game is how badly we were killed on the glass. We only had 3 offensive rebounds, they out-rebounded us 45-33, including a ridiculous 22-3 on the offensive end. We were able to somewhat counteract that by driving the lane and getting to the free throw line, but rebounding has been a surprising strength of this team so far this year and we won't survive most nights giving up that many second chance opportunities.
I wasn't pleased with the way we managed the end of the game. JP missed two free throws with a little over a minute left that would have been huge, but thankfully they returned the favor. Overall, Herb has done much better at the line and made some huge free throws down the stretch to put it away, but at the end of the game, we had to in-bound the ball under our own basket with less than 3 seconds remaining and K-State having no timeouts. First of all, that in-bounds pass should have been into the front court...even if you don't catch it, just get a hand on it and time runs off the clock and they aren't going to be able to get a good shot off, but instead we risk a pass in to our back court to Herb. Now, ideally Herb would make the shot to go up 3 and then if he makes the second one wer're up 4 and it's over, but he missed the first one. Still, even up only 2, I would have preferred he miss the second one on purpose as there were only 2 seconds left and K-State had no timeouts remaining. It would take them one second to secure the rebound, and then all we have to do is not foul and take our chances on an 80+ foot heave to win the game. Instead, we made the second one, which allowed them to inbound the ball without time running time off the clock and get a semi-decent look from half-court to potentially tie the game. Thankfully it was off the mark.
The crowd was great, much better than last weekend. I would estimate about 12,500, a near sell out, and everybody stayed positive and supportive even when the team was struggling. An article in the Kansas City newspaper said it was the toughest environment the wildcats have faced in the SEC/Big 12 challenge so far!
Not Alabama related, but as a basketball fan I must recognize the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant today. He was undoubtedly one of the best to ever play the game, and I appreciate all he did for the game and I think I can speak for all basketball fans in saying that I feel terrible for his family and loved ones.
Up next, a trip to SEC front running LSU Tigers Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 6pm on ESPN2.