Shaking Labels: Nate Oats Demands Toughness from His Team Following Loss to LSU

Alabama Athletics

Joey Blackwell

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In a program that proclaims 'maximum effort' as part of its mantra, Alabama basketball has been showing anything but over the past couple of games.

In back-to-back games the Crimson Tide has been out rebounded by large margins. Against Kansas State on Jan. 25, Alabama was out rebounded 45-33, and then followed the game up by being out rebounded by LSU on Wednesday 49-31.

There is possibly no one more aware of this fact than Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats.

“I was really upset with our effort at LSU," Oats said. "It’s just not who we’ve tried to be. I mean I’ve told our guys all this blue-collar stuff and hard-hat – it’s all fake if this is the effort we’re gonna get, and I don’t really want to be associated with a fake team. We’ve got to bring it every night or that ain’t who we are."

All season, Oats has reiterated a message of toughness. That toughness is to come through maximum effort, continuous growth and selfless love. Those three virtues have become so engrained into the program that you can find them all over the walls of the Crimson Tide locker room and around Coleman Coliseum.

While Oats' coaching methods are admirable and have taken Alabama to great lengths so far this season, the Crimson Tide hasn't exactly exhibited the toughness required of the coach over the past couple of games.

Following a four-game win streak, the Crimson Tide was outplayed by LSU on the road Wednesday. In the 90-76 loss, Alabama played disjointed and with low energy, failing to capitalize on the glass and allowing themselves to be dominated in the paint.

Oats says the loss directly correlates with the toughness of the team.

“It’s disastrous," Oats said. "I told our guys it speaks to toughness. You know, as a player, you’ve got own individual resume as a player. Whether you’re trying to play in the NBA or whether you’re trying to go overseas or you just trying to – I mean, it’s what they speak of you as a person sometimes. There’s a few things you don’t want to be labeled as. One is lazy. That’s a label that’s hard to shake. Okay? Soft is another label that’s hard to shake. Selfish is another one that’s hard to shake. If you’re out rebounded by 20 two games in a row, all of a sudden if you’re tough that doesn’t happen. 

"So unless we want to be labeled soft like we’d better get this thing fixed because this is not what tough teams do is get their butts kicked on the glass like this back-to-back games so I don’t care if you’re small, big, whatever.”

Oats clearly wants his team to be labeled as 'tough', but he will have his hands full as 15-4 Arkansas comes to Tuscaloosa Saturday afternoon.

The Razorbacks come to Coleman Coliseum off of a home loss to South Carolina. Junior guard Mason Jones is something to behold, leading the SEC in scoring with 19.2 points per game. In fact, Jones also leads the team in rebounding, assists and steals, making him the only player in the SEC to rank in the top-20 in the conference in all four categories.

If Alabama is to contain Jones and his dynamic Arkansas squad, toughness will be a key factor in the game, and the Crimson Tide needs to do a decent amount of label-shaking if it wants to overcome the stout Razorbacks.

Oats defines toughness as the answer to a lot of questions that players need to answer in Saturday's matchup.

“Are you actually playing with effort?," Oats said. "Are you rebounding the basketball? Kind of our blue-collar points, our toughness stuff – are you getting deflections? It’s just more of an effort. Toughness is – we’re not trying to do tough-man drills at this point. We’re not trying to get people hurt in practice. We’ve got enough issues getting people hurt in games so it’s more like ‘are you giving an effort every day?’ Are you locked into the scouting report? It’s more mental toughness sometimes than it is physical toughness.”

While the team has struggled over its past few games, the team continues to put forth effort in practice. Following Friday's morning practice Oats seemed very positive. While Oats revealed that the Crimson Tide doesn't do 'tough-man drills', he reiterated that the team has been giving its best following the tough road loss to the Tigers.

“I think we got what we needed to get fixed fixed and I think we’ll come out with a lot of energy on Saturday,” Oats said. “I think we’re playing a lot better and I think our minds are in a good spot right now.”

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