Alabama basketball seeking to improve against Missouri


Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

The mood in Alabama’s locker room following the home loss to Texas A&M on Saturday was somber, and rightfully so. The Crimson Tide had just allowed a double-digit halftime lead to escape them, falling victim to another Jekyll and Hyde performance and losing its fifth game of the season.

Inconsistency has plagued Alabama so far this year. There’s been the good, like a five game win streak capped by an upset victory over Kentucky, and there’s been the bad, like second half collapses against Georgia State and Texas A&M.

Even after allowing the Aggies to inch their way back into the game, it still looked as if Alabama was positioned to steal away with the win. That was before Texas A&M point guard TJ Starks sunk a fade away three-point jumper at the buzzer to secure a thrilling victory.

While Alabama felt the crushing pain of losing on a buzzer-beater, it also knows how it feels to be on the other, much more enjoyable, side. In the SEC tournament last season, Alabama’s Collin Sexton converted a buzzer-beater that is now instilled in Alabama lore to send the Aggies packing.

“They [Texas A&M] lost on a buzzer beater to us and still went to the sweet sixteen, so obviously it didn’t affect them in the NCAA tournament,” said Alabama coach Avery Johnson. “They still won a couple of games. I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen with us.”

Johnson will have the chance to watch how his team bounces back from the tough loss when Alabama (10-5, 1-2 SEC) takes on Missouri (9-5, 0-2 SEC) in Columbia on Wednesday night.

Since the loss to Texas A&M, Johnson has been pleased with the way his team has refocused both in practice and film study.

“The guys were alert yesterday,” Johnson said. “We had a pretty energetic practice. They realize we have a lot of season left.”

With the vast majority of its SEC schedule still to go, Alabama has turned the page from the Texas A&M loss and onto the task still at hand. But instead of viewing the rest of the regular season as a grind, Alabama’s players see its heavy slate of upcoming games as opportunities to demonstrate improvement.

“We’ve got plenty more games and plenty of opportunities,” John Petty Jr. said. “We’ve just got to take advantage of them. That’s one thing he [Johnson] preached to us about, moving on to the next team. You can be sad about this team but you’ve always got the next game right after.”

In the film sessions following the Texas A&M game, Alabama’s coaching staff and players broke down several areas that need drastic improvement. Chief among them is defense, both in the half court and in transition.

“One of our issues is when Kira drives to the basket,” Johnson said. “We’re not getting enough support in transition defense. We’re out of position, and if your spacing is bad when he drives, and there’s five guys on the baseline, including Kira when he drives, there’s not much support in transition defense. We’ve looked at how we want to rotate back from a transition defense standpoint.”

Another area of emphasis in preparation for Missouri has been inbounding the ball from the sideline. Alabama was called for a five-second violation in the last few minutes against Texas A&M, resulting in the Aggies getting another crack at cutting the lead. Part of the reason for the breakdown, according to Johnson, was that Riley Norris and Herbert Jones had fouled out, and therefore were not available to be the in-bounder. But he also said that the blame falls on players not working hard enough to break open.

“Everybody’s got to be a threat – come to the ball, show both hands like you really want the ball, you’ve got to be relentless and passionate about getting the basketball,” Johnson said. “We can’t just depend on a 17-year old kid to try to bail us out all the time at the end of games. What about some of the upper classman?”

The Crimson Tide will look to secure its second SEC win of the season over the Tigers at 8 p.m.