Alabama got pushed around in the paint and couldn’t make up enough ground with a last-minute rally as Arkansas escaped Coleman Coliseum with a 76-73 upset.
What did we learn today?: This team is in real danger of matching the 2000-01 Gerald Wallace squad as the most disappointing in modern school history. Back then the Crimson Tide never got the chemistry right despite having a pair of future NBA draft picks, faded badly down the stretch to finish .500 in the SEC and got relegated to the NIT, where it lost to Tulsa in the finals. This season’s team has dropped three in a row, is now 8-8 in league play with two tough contests remaining, and can’t seem to get all its shiniest toys to mesh together at once. Saturday was actually one of the better efforts at spreading the wealth offensively, but too many defensive breakdowns let the Razorbacks hang around the 50 percent field goal mark all day. If the Hogs had been less careless with the basketball, Bama could have easily given up 90 points in back-to-back games.
What were the biggest concerns?: Donta Hall got flat-out embarrassed. Within the first three minutes, Hall failed to get back on a defensive possession and then offered no resistance on a Daniel Gafford dunk to put Arkansas ahead 9-2. That earned him a quick hook from Avery Johnson and a nearly eight-minute stay on the bench. Even as Daniel Giddens turned it over twice and failed to get a point or rebound, Hall sat until Johnson was good and ready to issue a second chance. The defensive intensity picked up after that but the offense never arrived. Hall missed three of his five shots, all three free throws and ended with four points. In such a tight game, Alabama had to waste over a quarter of it waiting for its junior leader to get right mentally. Between Hall’s poor showing and the lack of credible alternatives, the Razorbacks enjoyed a 36-28 rebounding advantage and outscored their hosts 30-22 in the paint.
All three factors that have sunk the Tide in its losses were in full force Saturday. Bama had 18 turnovers, allowed 13 offensive rebounds and went 18-for-27 at the line, including four misses from Collin Sexton. The freshman point guard did have 15 points and six assists but missed all five of his 3-pointers on a night where his teammates went 10-for-20 behind the arc.
What was the best part of the game?: Seeing the starting five together long enough to develop some chemistry. Johnson has been unafraid to substitute early and often, but for the first 9:19 of the second half he left his starters on the floor to generate some desperately needed offense. They picked up momentum as the minutes ticked off, holding Arkansas without a field goal for the first 5:04 of the period and turning a four-point deficit into a 53-49 lead. Four starters scored in double figures as only 55 of the available 200 minutes went to bench players.
Who was the star?: Braxton Key replaced Giddens in the starting lineup for the first time all month and didn’t squander his opportunity. The sophomore forward went 6-for-9 from the floor, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds. Key slashed to the basket, made timely 3-pointers and was active all day on both ends of the court in a game where that wasn’t a given for everyone.
What’s next?: The (hopefully) last game of the season in Coleman Coliseum comes Tuesday in a rematch with Florida. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. Central on ESPN.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris