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January 14, 2012

HURT: Loss doesn't mean the end

STARKVILLE, Miss | It is difficult to forget, in the wake of the University of Alabama's second BCS championship in three years, what a difference there is in a football regular season and a basketball regular season, at least at the collegiate level.

Consider this: In the wake of last Monday night's dismantling of LSU, there is little question that Alabama is the best team in college football. Aside from a few prairie dog towns in and around Stillwater, Okla., (and having seen Stillwater, "in" is the operative word), every other precinct around the country would vote for the Crimson Tide. But think how fortunate Alabama was to get a chance to prove its mettle. Oklahoma State had to lose in Ames, Iowa. Stanford had to lose to Oregon - a better team than Iowa State, but still a case where a team had to lose. Boise State had to lose at home, where it never loses, to be forced out of the debate (although the computers might have denied the Broncos at the end, it might have made the insufferable six weeks of media moaning about the BCS - which actually matched the two best teams - even worse.)

Once all those things happened, Alabama's talent and hard work and preparation took over. But it took a lot of luck to overcome one overtime loss.

Basketball is different. One loss during the regular season doesn't end anything, especially a road loss in the conference.

Kentucky went 4-7 on the road in the regular season a year ago and made it to the Final Four. That doesn't mean that losing doesn't matter at all. It does, and Alabama's loss at Mississippi State was particularly frustrating because UA actually overcame adversity and gave itself a chance at the end.

In the end, though, what cost Alabama in Starkville on Saturday was the same thing that cost the Crimson Tide against LSU in November. No one could make the one 3-pointer that was needed for Alabama. State had a senior guard, Dee Bost, who, when his team had to have big baskets at the end, provided them.

Alabama, on the other hand, didn't have that. This Crimson Tide team has developed nicely as the season has gone on, but it hasn't yet produced a candidate for the big 3-point shot at the end. There are possibilities: Tony Mitchell can make a 3-pointer, or Trevor Lacey, or Trevor Releford. But there isn't a great shooter in the bunch, nor is there a Mykal Riley/Charvez Davis type of specialist.
It showed when Alabama was down by three points with 10 seconds remaining. The Crimson Tide chose to play for two, a sound strategy under the circumstances as coach Anthony Grant explained to them.

Mississippi State, he said, had two fouls to give and could defend the perimeter aggressively. Lacey made a layup, and Alabama stayed alive until Bost hit a touchdown pass on the inbounds play.

Therein lies the difference, though. A basketball team can absorb this loss and, with hard work, still have a chance at a title. By the time single-elimination play rolls around, Alabama might have found that shooter - and not need any help to show it.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil.hurt@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0225.

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