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March 3, 2012

Tide can't afford another letdown at SEC tourney

In and of itself, losing at Ole Miss on Saturday wasn't a disaster for the University of Alabama basketball team. Oxford has often been a tough place for the Crimson Tide, and while this Ole Miss team isn't great, it isn't terrible, with long, athletic forwards and a stout defense.

A postgame quote from JaMychal Green, however, put the loss into chilling perspective. Upon being asked about a rematch with South Carolina in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday, Green noted Alabama "had a game like this" in the first meeting at Columbia. On the surface, Green was just stating the obvious. Alabama did play a sluggish, selfish game against the Gamecocks - it was the point at which Anthony Grant described his team as playing "entitled" basketball.

But it wasn't long after the Crimson Tide embarked on a lengthy period of attitude adjustment, with suspensions and lineup changes, and seemingly emerged at the other end, not with a great basketball team, but with one that at least played with a purpose.

That wasn't the case Saturday at Tad Smith Coliseum. At times,UA was outmuscled on the backboards. At other times, it made inexplicable turnovers, or failed to execute on defensively generated fast break chances. Some of the failures were physical, but more of the lapses seemed mental.

In other words, the team Alabama fans never wanted to see again made an unwelcome appearance at precisely the wrong time of year to make it.

The fact is, when Alabama is bad, it can be downright bad. The Crimson Tide simply doesn't have the firepower to score 75 points in a game, except once in a blue moon.

Many Alabama games are played in the low 60s and the Crimson Tide has to slow the other team down in order to win. But that sort of low-scoring, trench warfare basketball requires a high level of intensity.

Defensive lapses cannot easily be remedied at the offensive end. Squandered possessions are more costly because even with good possessions, UA doesn't always score. Teams can hang around. The chilling case in point? South Carolina. Alabama has shown it can pay badly enough to lose to the Gamecocks once.

It shouldn't happen again on a neutral floor (although the Gamecocks' home floor, with a couple of thousand disinterested fans, wasn't much more than neutral, either.) But with the way it played in Oxford, Alabama can take nothing for granted. Not even South Carolina.

A second brutal loss to the league's worst team might not be enough to keep Alabama out of the NCAA Tournament, but it would make for a tortuous weekend leading up to Selection Sunday.

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



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