I had to take a little extra time and be careful with what I wrote in this post because I’m disappointed in all kind of ways after that loss. Alabama was tougher, more disciplined and executed better than we did for most of the game. Coach Jones message in the pregame was clear; Win the battle of points in the paint, take care of the ball and be the aggressor and we’d be sitting atop the SEC with just 8 games left.
Although we played hard and with great urgency throughout the second half, our poor play in the first half was too much to overcome. The first half our transition defense was atrocious. Too many times we hung around our basket to poke at a rebound, didn’t sprint back and communicate, or turned the ball over against their pressure defense, which enabled them to get easy dunks at the other end. In addition we got beat to a lot of 50/50 balls and made too many poor decisions against their multiple aggressive defenses. Some of our guys stepped up their play knowing they were facing the SEC leader but we needed everybody from our leaders to the last guy on our roster to play well. In a year where it seems every game in the SEC is going to come down to a couple points, a lack of focus or one mistake can be the difference in a win or loss. Today it resulted in a loss.
After the game Coach Jones told each and every member of our team to evaluate themselves when they went home by asking themselves, did I give my all today? Could I have given more? What else can I do to prepare each day? That is what it boils down to from here. How are we going to learn from this loss? What is each and every one of us going to do to get better and help our team?
I was also really really disappointed that we couldn’t get Coach Jones a win in his last appearance as our interim head coach. He deserved to walk off that sidelines with the crowd cheering and another win in his pocket. He and the other two assistants have done an unbelievable job handling this tough situation. To go 5-3, and having us in position to compete for the SEC Championship is admirable. Honestly, from an insider’s point of view, there has been NOTHING easy about this situation. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that you reap what you sow but this entire situation has been much tougher and more stressful than I could have ever anticipated. However, because of Coach Jones and our staffs knowledge of the game and relationships with the players, they were able to keep this team together, help us improve and put us in position to achieve the goals we set for ouselves at the beginning of the season.
Despite our tough loss to Alabama, I couldn’t be prouder of Coach Jones, Coach Forbes and Coach Shay. An emotional Coach Jones recognizing that our kids are deserving of 99% of the credit for the way that they have handled Coach Pearl’s absence sincerely thanked our players for allowing him and the rest of our staff to stand in for Coach Pearl. He went on to thank them for being so coachable and playing so hard the majority of the time throughout this adverse situation.
Although absolutely nothing about this season has been normal, come Tuesday, our leader will be back to his normal head coaching duties roaming the sideline. His return will be another adjustment our players will be asked to make but at least this time we know it will be the last one of the season. Upon Coach Pearl’s return we immediately become a better basketball team because of the experience he brings to game situations. His unbelievable winning record is in large part due to his uncanny ability to motivate his players and make quick in-game decisions which will benefit us greatly as we continue to be in closely contested games.
Tuesday’s game vs. Kentucky is a must win for both teams as we battle to stay in the race for the SEC Championship. In addition to those stakes, the history of the rivalry and the return of Coach Pearl effort and motivation wont need to be a focus in our teams preparation. Our main focus will rely heavily on executing our offensive and defensive game plan. With so much on the line in an environment as electric as any that may be seen throughout college basketball all year, the team that can play with poise and do the little things will win this basketball game. Which team will communicate better? Who will get more 50/50 balls? Who will make their free throws? Which team will handle their opponent’s runs? Defense will be huge for us early as it always is tougher to get your offense going on the road. But most of all, our identity of mental and physical toughness needs to be demonstrated for 40 minutes. If we do so, our disappointment will turn to triumph.
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