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Amidst Midseason Slump, Alabama Basketball Seeks Consistency in Effort

The Crimson Tide has lost three of its last five games, with back-to-back comeback efforts falling short at Missouri and against Auburn.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's safe to say that the last two outings for Alabama basketball haven't gone quite as well as the program has wished.

Last Saturday, the Crimson Tide lost 92-86 at Missouri, then followed the loss up with another loss at home, this time by a margin of 81-77 to No. 4 Auburn. In both games, Alabama trailed in the second half before mounting a comeback attempt that fell just short.

While Auburn is one of the top teams in the country, Missouri is far from it. However, the fact that Alabama's performance against both teams fit roughly the same blueprint — after downing both Gonzaga and Houston earlier this season — shows that consistency isn't one of the Crimson Tide's best qualities at this point of the season.

At Missouri, Alabama trailed by as much as 18 points before a second wind led the Crimson Tide all the way back to pull within four points with 0:18 left on the clock. Against Auburn, Alabama trailed by 14 before storming back to tie the game at 77 with 3:07 left to play. In both games, the Crimson Tide fell apart in the final minutes, resulting in back-to-back losses for the first time this season.

Alabama graduate-student forward Noah Gurley said he knows what both of the failed comeback attempts signify and how the effort displayed from the team in those comebacks should be the effort shown from the team in all 40 minutes of a game.

“I think it shows what we’ve already known because we’ve played up to that potential before,” Gurley said. “It’s not really showing us anything, it’s more so just raising the question of ‘Why don’t we do it all the time?’ So like I said, that’s why we’ve just been trying to find consistency in practice. That’s why coaches have been on us about small details because once our consistency [is] there, we all believe we’re the best team in the country.

"So once we get that consistency, it’s only up from there.”

The 2021-22 season has been an inconsistent one for Alabama so far. After taking down No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 12 Houston in back-to-back games, the Crimson Tide was then hammered by unranked Memphis on the road and then lost a close one to Davidson just two games later. Now, Alabama has lost three of its last five games, with two of those losses coming at the hands of unranked opponents.

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On Friday, Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats gave a glimpse behind the curtain as to how he and his staff have been using the comebacks as an example in practice of how the team should be playing for 40 minutes, not just in brief bursts in a game.

“We’ve actually used it quite a bit and it happened today in practice, to be honest with you,” Oats said. “We chart everything in practice, so we were going against the scout team, and in our first section in practice where we were guarded the scout stuff I looked over and we had 11 possessions and the scout team was a 1.64, which is bad. I mean, our scout team is not going to be nearly as good as — it consists of mainly bench guys that aren’t playing many minutes, walk-ons. So then at the end of practice, we kinda challenged our guys — how are we gonna guard anybody when our scout team is scoring 1.64? We’d lose every game we ever played if that’s what we gave up during the game. So we had 18 possessions after that and we were like a 0.35 on those 18 possessions.

"I said ‘Well, what was the difference?’ It’s effort. Effort is something you can control and if we’re continuing to talk about things you can control and we’re not doing a great job of it, then we’ve got an issue. If we wait until we’re down 14 to play as hard as we can possibly play against Auburn, give yourself the chance [and] you’re gonna come up short, which we did. In practice today if we had three sessions where we guard the scout where the next two are twice as good as the first one, like, why? Because we’re not playing as hard."

So what's the answer to Alabama's problems? The simple, short answer is that the team needs to play with more consistency throughout the course of its games. How the team can accomplish that is playing with more effort throughout, rather than simply picking and choosing when it plays hard.

Oats didn't simply allude to that point, he blatantly stated it. In order for more consistency to be developed, the players can't decide when they want to put forth effort; it needs to be put forth constantly.

While the recent struggles are no doubt concerning to Oats and his staff, there is still a long SEC schedule ahead of them filled with opportunities to overcome its shortcomings. Oats said that the first thing his team needs to focus on is developing leadership.

"We gotta get some leadership," Oats said. "We gotta get some guys that play with max effort 100-percent of the time, not a percentage of the time that they decide they’re gonna play hard. The Missouri game was case in point. They shot it really well against us, but in my opinion they shot it really well because we didn’t put enough pressure on them. We didn’t play hard enough. I mean, we saw the next night out Arkansas got their back against a wall, 0-3 in the league, they played really hard and they shouldn’t be 0-3 in the league and Missouri struggled and couldn’t score the ball against them. Well, if we had played that hard, they probably would have struggled like that against us, too. We gotta give better effort for 40 minutes, we gotta give better effort every possession in practice.

"When we get to that point, I think we’re as good as just about anybody in the country and we’ve proven that. When we decide which possessions we’re gonna play hard on, we’re a really average team.”

Alabama basketball will look to bounce back from its back-to-back losses on Saturday night against Mississippi State in Starkville (5 p.m. CT, SEC Network).