The Alabama’s men’s basketball team has been here before. Assuming Tennessee takes care of either lowly South Carolina or anemic Mississippi State in the upcoming Southeastern Conference tournament, the Crimson Tide will get a chance to redeem itself of the horrible no-call that handed the Vols a 1-point win in Knoxville, Tenn.
Last year, it was South Carolina the Tide had to take care of after its bye in the conference tourney. Bama will likely face a different team this year, though anything is possible. However, if everything goes as predicted and Alabama exacts sweet revenge on the Volunteers in the conference quarterfinals, one very formidable team will be waiting in the semifinals: Florida.
It was last year’s young squad that met the Gators in Coleman Coliseum and got shellacked on its home court. A month later, the same teams met in the conference tournament, and the Tide put up an admirable effort, ultimately losing 66-63.
Most notable about the latter contest, though, was the way coach Anthony Grant and company relentlessly battled against the same squad that humbled them just weeks before. The Crimson Tide learned from that painful loss and nearly pulled an upset in New Orleans, La.
Fast forward to March 2. Alabama’s players, a year older and wiser, traveled to Gainsville, Fla., to face Billy Donovan, Grant’s old mentor, and No. 6 Florida. That game saw Alabama hold leads well into the second half. Taking advantage of fast-break opportunities and stifling defense, the Tide had the Gators on the ropes. As soon as all the skeptical Bama fans tuned in to witness what could be the team’s signature win, however, offensive stagnation and a visible lack of effort snatched a victory away from the Tide.
The dust has settled, and the question, now, is this: After the last three contests against Florida yielded frustrating results, when, if ever, will this core group become mature enough to prevail against the Gators?
There are other factors to consider in this scenario, including the talent gap between the Tide and Florida. However, it is the mark of a mature and disciplined team that competes, sometimes loses, but learns from its mistakes and corrects them so as not to form a habit of committing the same errors. Not to compare this university’s football and basketball programs, but one of the many reasons Nick Saban is such a successful coach is because the man never loses to the same opponent twice in a row.
Take a page from every SEC basketball team’s sworn enemy: Kentucky. After UK coach John Calipari was recently confronted about this year’s atypical performance by the Wildcats, he completely shouldered the blame for his team’s struggles. Like someone who knows a thing or two about responsibility, he handled the question gracefully and did not delegate any blame. Two days later, his team achieved its signature win against – guess who? – the Florida Gators.
Calipari could have made excuses, possibly calling out his players’ mindsets or maybe mentioning the loss of their best player, Nerlens Noel. He didn’t, though. His answer reflected a mentality of working and competing to get a win, no matter the odds or circumstances.
It is the mark of a mature and wise team that accepts responsibility and breaks bad habits when needed. A date with the Florida Gators is likely looming. We’ll be able to see if the Crimson Tide basketball team is up to the task.