TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two weeks ago, Alabama basketball was 11-3 and ranked No. 15 in the country.
Then it all came crashing down.
On a routine road trip to visit a Missouri Tigers team that was shorthanded due to COVID-19 issues within the program, the Crimson Tide displayed one of its worst performances of the season. Despite having a more talented roster and facing one of the lower-tier opponents in the Southeastern Conference, Alabama basketball surrendered 92 points to Missouri, resulting in the program's first SEC loss of the season.
"It caught me off guard," Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said on Friday in a press conference. "I thought we had had a better week heading into that. I thought they'd play harder. [...] Hopefully they've learned, hopefully we've matured from that experience and I trust we're playing a lot better."
On Saturday, the Crimson Tide will get its chance at redemption.
The Missouri loss was the beginning of a three-game losing streak that, by the end of it, saw Alabama have a 2-3 SEC record and fall completely out of the AP Top 25. It seems like poetry that Missouri would now be the team standing in between Alabama and winning back-to-back games.
With the feeling of the bitter loss still gnawing at the Crimson Tide, Oats said that having Missouri scheduled twice so closely together can be beneficial.
"Yeah I don't think it's the worst," Oats said. "We had two weeks in-between, which is pretty quick but I do think probably the quicker we play Missouri, cause you hate to say it but there's definitely some motivation factors that go into some of these games and if they remember how bad we got embarrassed at their place, hopefully that's still sitting in their stomachs and adds a little extra motivation for us to play a lot harder than what we did at their place."
On Wednesday, the Crimson Tide picked up a big home win against No. 13 LSU inside Coleman Coliseum, snapping the losing streak and giving the team hope to get back on track after its slump. With Missouri also beating Ole Miss this past week, both teams are heading into Saturday's game with a win and the hopes to begin a winning streak.
With Oats discussing motivation for the game, junior guard Jaden Shackelford reiterated his coach by stating his team's optimism heading into the game against a team that defeated them just two short weeks ago.
"We're pretty stoked for it," Shackelford said. "We didn't have our best game at Missouri. It was a real eye-opener for us in a sense, so having a turn-around on them this fast is good for us. We're still kind of fresh on what they run and things of that sort, so I feel like it's good for us to kind of get another shot at them this quick. I feel like we've prepare well and we're ready to turn things around this time."
In the LSU game, Alabama's success revolved around solid defensive play rather than a fruitful offense. In the second half of the game, the Crimson Tide was 0-15 from behind the three-point line — something uncharacteristic of the general offense-heavy Alabama roster. However, with better effort exhibited by its players, the Crimson Tide was able to come out on top.
Now, with extra motivation following a big win coupled with the desire to not repeat the same mistakes against Missouri, Alabama hopes to not see another L in the win/loss column at the end of the day.
However, Oats said that Saturday's Missouri game shouldn't be about revenge.
"I think if you get into the whole revenge, extra motivation — like, so what happens when you don't have that?" Oats said. "To me, it's play the right way every time. It's more 'Are we going to be mature enough to play hard like we're supposed to' rather than — we haven't really talked about revenge. We've just talked about 'This is what this team is capable of doing if you don't play hard and guard 'em. We need to be mature and play hard no matter who the opponent is."
After the Missouri game, Alabama will play at Georgia, who is one of the weaker teams in the SEC this season. However, the following three games will be a tough gauntlet against No. 5 Baylor, at No. 2 Auburn and against No. 12 Kentucky.
Oats has always been a believer that if a team plays with heart effort — particularly on the defensive end of the court — then offensive production will ultimately follow suit. That was the case against LSU on Wednesday night, and it could very well be the same situation against Missouri.
That is, if his team plays with the same amount of effort against an unranked Tigers team that it did against the ranked one.
"We're ready to play Missouri this time I think," Oats said. "We just had a good practice. We obviously had a disappointing outing at their place at the start of the three-game losing streak. [The] guys understand that you gotta play hard no matter who the opponent is and at the time Missouri hadn't been playing well and they've now gotten a couple of wins and they've proved they're a pretty good team.
"The bottom line is if we play hard, we'll be in good shape."