Playing its first game after losing Herbert Jones to a broken wrist, Alabama broke down repeatedly on defense and got shown up on the glass by the SEC’s worst rebounding team in an 82-78 loss to Arkansas at Coleman Coliseum.
What did we learn today?: It’s time to put the hard hats in storage for a while because, outside of Jones, no one has shown the consistent blue collar effort Nate Oats preaches about. Arkansas is a good team, but the way it is constructed meant this was Bama’s best remaining opportunity at a high-quality win. Instead the Razorbacks shook off a three-game conference winning streak because nobody on the Crimson Tide could or would step up to replace Jones as a defensive stopper. The Hogs shot nearly 52 percent in the second half and 47.5 percent overall. After some early whistles, Bama looked like it did not know how to defend without fouling. So for long stretches of the second half, the Tide worked around that by not really defending at all. Mason Jones and Jimmy Whitt combined for 56 points, completely outclassing Kira Lewis and John Petty in a matchup of the SEC’s top two scoring duos.
The Hogs play four and sometimes five guards at once and emphasize getting back on defense at the expense of crashing the glass after missed shots. But somehow the team ranked 334th in offensive rebounding percentage managed to grab 11 of them at Bama’s expense, a nearly 30 percent clip. That’s pathetic, and after three straight games is officially a trend. Alabama started the game on a 12-0 run, energized by the emotions of wanting to work hard in the absence of Jones (and of Beetle Bolden, out a second consecutive game with stomach illness.) But emotions don’t last and after the first media timeout the Razorbacks methodically broke Bama down.
What were the biggest concerns?: With the Crimson Tide down to a seven-man rotation, it needed its top players at their very best. Instead Lewis and Petty flopped badly with the pressure on. A game after getting benched for a poor practice showing, Petty was barely more effective than in the loss to LSU, going 3-for-8 from the floor for eight points and not even getting looks at the basket for much of the game. Lewis had 12 points but in many ways played far worse than Petty. Lewis was 4-for-13 from the field, didn’t make a 3-point shot, turned it over seven times and frankly killed the offense in the closing minutes by jacking up shots after zero ball movement instead of trying to run an offense to get Arkansas out of position. And again, this was in a game where the Crimson Tide had a solid crowd and a favorable size matchup. It’s easy to talk about leadership when things are going well, but the pressure has been turned up and it’s unclear whether one or both of them will step up now that times are tough.
What was the best part of the game?: Occasionally Bama would remember it had a size advantage inside, and when it did that usually meant another couple of points for Javian Davis. The freshman has had a rough time since beginning SEC play but showed some nice touch around the basket, making all three field goals and finishing with 11 points. He’s still raw, but the potential is there for him to blossom into a true post threat by the time he’s an upperclassman. As his energy levels and foul situation dictates, he should be getting more and more minutes in place of Galin Smith, who simply isn’t talented enough to keep up.
Who was the star?: When Oats tells Jaden Shackelford to shoot more, he doesn’t have to tell him twice. A garbage-time 3-pointer at the buzzer helped him match a career high with 28 points, but there was nothing cheap about his overall effort, going 11-for-22 from the floor and tying Lewis and Petty with three assists in 39 minutes. Even with a pair of losses, Shackelford deserves freshman of the week consideration after combining for 49 points against the Hogs and LSU.
What’s next?: Tennessee comes to Tuscaloosa in a matchup of 12-9 teams. Tipoff is Tuesday at 6 p.m. Central on ESPNU.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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