TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama basketball was in a unfamiliar position for most players on the roster. With a top-15 team coming into Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night, the Crimson Tide was on the verge of losing four games in a row for the first time since 2018.
However, thanks to an increased level of intensity and effort in the blue collar areas that Nate Oats likes to see and a 26-point performance from Jaden Shackelford, Alabama beat No. 13 LSU 70-67.
The Crimson Tide is 3-5 since beating Houston on Dec. 11 and had lost three SEC games in a row. Over that stretch, there were questions about the toughness of this team, and Oats repeatedly said in the media that he was looking for the lineup that would give the best effort. Shackelford felt like the team answered some of those questions against the Tigers.
"It kinda just shows that we got a fight to us," Shackelford said postgame. "Going through that three-game losing streak, there was a lot of questions around our toughness, but we decided we’re not going to let that be something people kinda put around our name. So if shots didn’t fall in the second half, we were going to allow our defense or our toughness to make plays and cover up some of that stuff. It’s big for us. It gives us confidence going forward with another stretch ahead of us."
He was referencing the second half of the LSU game where Alabama went stone cold from behind the arc. After the bulk of the scoring in the first half came from three-point shots, Alabama was 0-15 on three-point attempts in the second half. Despite poor shooting, intensity on both ends of the floor kept Alabama in the game.
Shackelford said that this team has learned that when shots aren't falling it cannot affect the way they play on the other end of the floor. For the first time since the Tennessee game, Alabama had a positive rebounding margin. The Crimson Tide also grabbed 19 offensive rebounds compared to LSU's nine.
The second leading scorer of the night for Alabama, Jahvon Quinerly, said this was a big win for the direction of this team, especially with how they played despite poor second-half shooting.
"I didn’t know we shot 0-15 in the second half from three," Quinerly said. "I thought we got some great looks, but that just goes to show— a lot of people say we live by the three, die by the three, but we got some stops in the second half today, and this is a big win for us. We’ve got to get back on the right track. Gotta get back rolling. Gotta get guys’ confidence back, so it was a huge win for the program."
Along with Keon Ellis, the three veteran guards combined for 55 of Alabama's 70 points. It tied the most points allowed by the Tigers in a single game this season, who came into the game ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency.
For Quinerly, this game serves as a reminder for everyone on the team about how physical they need to play week in and week out. Oats has been challenging the team in the media and in practice, and Quinerly felt like the team did a good job against LSU.
"We responded the right way," Quinerly said. "Had two tough days of practice. It’s just something that we’re going to have to keep constantly reminding our guys is that we gotta play physical. This is a real physical league, and that’s the only way you can win games."
Oats wants his team to get the swagger back they had last season that propelled them to an SEC Tournament title and the Sweet 16.
"I told our guys before the game, we had a swagger about us last year where we knew we were going to come in and play harder than everyone we played, and if shots dropped at a high rate like they did against LSU last year, we win the game by 30 or 40," Oats said. "If they don’t drop, we still win the game— it might be by six, eight, 10. But we’re gonna win the game because we’re gonna play harder than you.
"I thought our guys played hard, so I thought it came to fruition. Let’s just play hard, and if we shoot a great percentage, we’ll win in a blowout, and if not, we’ll win in a tight one. And we won in a tight one.”
Since making 13 threes in the win over Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 4, the Crimson Tide has only made double-digit threes one time (12 in the 79-78 loss to Davidson.) As was shown by the 14-1 run LSU went on late in the game, making threes can quickly swing momentum and help a team get back in a game or build an excessive lead.
The Crimson Tide looked like it was on the way to a hot shooting night in the first half going 7-19 from beyond the arc, but the 0-15 in the second half squelched any possibility of that. Oats said he cannot see another game where Alabama will shoot 0-15 in a half. If this team can start consistently shooting the three again, or even just shooting it slightly better than they have been, they once again can compete and beat any team in the country just like the current No. 1 Gonzaga.
With the win over the No. 13 Tigers, Alabama improved to 4-1 in games against teams in the top-25. Meanwhile, five of its six losses have come against unranked teams. It's a point of frustration for Oats, especially with the next opponent being a team Alabama lost to earlier in the month.
"Shoot think about the next team we have coming in," Oats said. "We didn’t play hard enough to win at Missouri. That’s not something I want to be said about our team that we lose games because of an effort deal. We shouldn’t be talking about coaching effort. We are. I thought we gave a great effort tonight. Now are we going to have the maturity to give a great effort on Saturday?
"We’ve got to get to the point where we’re not coaching effort. We’re coaching adjustments in the game, running plays, not fighting with them to give us effort. When we get there, we’ll be one of the best teams in the country. Because we’ve proven… our guys ‘get up’ for big games. To me that’s really immature. If you get up for a big game, why can’t you get up for every game? If we got up for every game, our record would be a lot better than what it is right now."
The victory over LSU puts Alabama in a good position and adds another quality win to the resume. The Crimson Tide has two super winnable games coming up versus Missouri at home and on the road at Georgia next Tuesday. Then it faces a brutal stretch of No. 5 Baylor, at No. 2 Auburn and No. 12 Kentucky.
"We’re there, we’ve just got to piece the whole thing together," Oats said. "We can’t do it for parts of a game, do it for one game and then not another game."
Quinerly said he was talking to one of his coaches before the game about not only protecting the home court, but attacking it. They want to attack the opponent and come out strong, and Alabama will have that chance when Missouri makes the return trip to Coleman Coliseum for the 5 p.m. tipoff on Saturday.