Nate Oats' message to Alabama amidst adversity: 'Losers make excuses'
The Alabama basketball team felt a bit hard done coming out of its 69-68 defeat to Tennessee last Tuesday. The Crimson Tide was already perturbed as it saw a 15-point lead slip through its hands, but having to watch as the Volunteers chipped away from the free-throw line brought an already steaming home team to a full boil.
Alabama guard John Petty Jr. frustratedly picked up a technical foul in the second half as the boos rained in from fans inside Coleman Coliseum. By the end of the evening, Alabama had three players — Galin Smith, Alex Reese and Javian Davis — foul out of the game as Tennessee made 32 trips to the line compared to the Crimson Tide’s eight.
Alabama head coach Nate Oats’ response to his team’s dissatisfaction after the game: So what?
“Everybody wants to make excuses,” Oats said referencing the loss to Tennessee following Alabama’s win over Georgia on Saturday. “Refs screw you all the time, right? I mean I told our guys, 'losers make excuses, and winners figure out ways to win.' Not every referee is going to be 100 percent correct, so let’s quit worrying about the stuff we can’t control.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Georgia, Oats said he showed his players all the “dumb fouls” they had against Tennessee, reminding them of the basic fundamentals of defense — keep your hands off opponents on drives, stay vertical, and play with discipline. The no-nonsense approach paid off as the Crimson Tide sent the Bulldogs to the line just 21 times over 45 minutes while holding on for a crucial 105-102 overtime victory in Athens, Ga.
Forward Javian Davis was the lone Alabama player to foul out against Georgia, and that didn’t come until nine seconds left in overtime after the redshirt freshman had put in 23 minutes — seven over his season average. By that point, Davis had provided 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds while earning enough blue-collar points to take home the team’s Hard Hat Award.
“I think he gave us everything he possibly had,” Oats said. “Started cramping during the game, they did what they could with it. Now he’s back there getting an IV."
That was the kind of all-out effort Alabama (13-10, 5-5 in the SEC) needed as it looked to end a three-game losing streak while keeping its diminishing NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The victory over Georgia (12-11, 2-8) was just Alabama’s third true road win of the season and the first time since 2017 that the Crimson Tide has prevailed in overtime.
“This team is real resilient,” said Alabama point guard Kira Lewis Jr., who scored a career-high 37 points. “After the Tennessee loss, we all came together and we just talked about it. We talked about how we were just going to put it all on the floor for every game, how we weren’t going to look past an opponent, play every possession.
"You know, even if we get up on a team, not trying to let them come back. Or if they do come back and make a run, we just stay locked in and play every possession and try to win the game.”
Entering Saturday, Alabama had dropped back-to-back home games in which it had led by double digits in the first half. The Crimson Tide got out to an eight-point lead early against Georgia on Saturday only to see the Bulldogs jump out the gates strong in the second half to take a commanding 65-53 lead with 14:44 remaining in regulation. However, this time Alabama was able to respond to adversity as it answered back with a 15-2 run of its own to retake the lead at 68-67 four minutes later.
“This was a tough road win that we needed badly after giving away the two straight games at home," Oats said. "I thought our guys showed a lot of character. To come in here and fight like we did on the road was great for our guys.
“We gave up a big run to start the second half, but the guys got it back together. I thought the chatter in the timeouts was good from our guys. We have some good leadership from our leaders. It was great to get a road win.”
Alabama will need to carry over its momentum into this week as it travels to No. 11 Auburn (21-2, 8-2) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT. The Crimson Tide handed the Tigers their first loss of the season in January with an 83-64 victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala.