During the clean-up of Alabama basketball's 81-66 road loss to Arkansas, coach Nate Oats showed his team almost 20 clips of how his players reacted to foul calls.
The 32 fouls committed by the Crimson Tide in regulation versus the Razorbacks were the most in almost 10 years for the school. It didn't help Alabama that Arkansas also shot 35 more free throws.
Even in practice this week, Oats tested the mental fortitude of his guys by making the wrong call on purpose to make sure his players gave zero reaction.
“We talk about controlling what you can control,” Oats told the media on Friday afternoon. “You cannot control what calls the referee makes whether they are good, bad whatever. Some of our reactions to the calls were bad reactions on solid calls. We fouled them, and we reacted as if we didn’t foul them.. We've had way too much reaction.
“Foul a 3-point shooter, and it was definitely a foul and we throw our arms up like there’s no foul. You fouled them. It was a dumb play. It’s the most inefficient play in basketball, fouling a 3-point shooter. We did it multiple times, and then we react as if it’s the referee’s fault. It’s not the referee’s fault when you run into a guy shooting a 3.”
Senior wing Herbert Jones, who is a semifinalist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, has fouled out in three of the last four games. For Alabama to continue its historic season, it can't afford to have him miss crucial minutes down the stretch of games.
"We gotta defend knowing we can't put our hands on guys when they drive and post up," Jones said. "We just gotta go vertical when they do drive. We need to be solid on the defensive end. That's the only thing I can think of to fix the fouling problem."
The Crimson Tide will look to not repeat what happened in Fayetteville on Saturday evening (5 p.m, SEC Network) when it travels to Starkville to face Mississippi State, who it beat 81-73 back on Jan. 23.
Another point of emphasis heading into the matchup with the Bulldogs is Alabama's ability to finish at the rim.
Against Arkansas, the Crimson Tide made only 14 of its 28 shot attempts at the rim and had 11 shots blocked. Mississippi State provides a similar challenge in that three of its starters are 6-foot-9 or taller.
According to Oats, getting the Bulldogs' bigs away from the basket will be key.
"They’re essentially starting two centers and a power forward, so they’ve got a lot of rim protection,” Oats said. “Hopefully with [Jordan] Bruner making some shots, you can pull one of those bigs away from the rim, make him play Bruner a little more honest.
“I don’t know exactly how they’ll match up. I’m guessing [Abdul] Ado will be on Bruner. Whoever they decide to put Tolu Smith on should be a perimeter shooter who we can hopefully pull away from the rim and get the shot-blocking away from the rim with how we play and spread the floor.”
Alabama has lost three of its last four road games and has put itself in early holes in each one of those contests by trailing by 10-or-more points in the first five minutes of action.
Oats attributes the road struggles to mental preparation.
"I don’t have an answer to it to be honest with you,” Oats said. “It’s not like there’s one thing we’re doing particularly bad on the road. I think it’s more just a focus, concentration, getting ready to go...
“Our guys, we’ve got to do a better job when we’re staying in a hotel room, getting locked in. Maybe it’s not shooting in their own gym that they’re not used to shooting in. I don’t know what it is per se, but we’ve got to figure it out.”
A win versus the Bulldogs or an Arkansas loss would allow Alabama to clinch the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and Oats doesn't want his team to make the same mistake of hyping Saturday's game up too much like it did versus the Hogs.
"They can let us know when we win the [SEC] title," Oats said. "And after we win the title, I'll congratulate them and then we've got to figure out how to beat the next opponent."