Following Alabama’s 67-58 loss to Kentucky on Saturday, an inelegant and, for Crimson Tide fans, highly frustrating afternoon of basketball, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson was asked (by me, for full disclosure) about his goal of making Coleman Coliseum a frightening place for opposing teams to play. In the course of that question, I referred to the Alabama crowd, which stuck around in the face of an 18-point deficit and helped UA in a late, unfulfilled comeback as “good.”
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to respectfully disagree,” Johnson replied. In the fraction of a second before he continued, I wondered about the disagreement. Yes, some Alabama fans have sold tickets to Kentucky fans, as they often do, but it wasn’t an overwhelmingly blue presence that you sometimes see in these games.
Then Johnson continued.
“I thought the home crowd was great,” he said. “G-R-E-A-T, with every letter capitalized. When an Alabama crowd comes out – and we are talking about basketball here – and cheers for a team as we continue to grow and mature, well, it’s just gotten greater and greater.
“This was the best atmosphere of the season. We need to give (the fans) something more than saying ‘good try’ or ‘they really played hard.’ We need to have a little bit of a breakthrough for one of these great crowds.”
Johnson was honest about something else: this was a golden opportunity for Alabama, coming off an energizing win at South Carolina, to do just that. Kentucky is a very good team, but not as overwhelming as some of its recent editions. The Wildcats are long and athletic, but there is no Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns in the middle, and it’s arguable whether this year’s Malik Monk/DeAaron Fox backcourt is better than last year’s Tyler Ulis/Jamal Murray tandem.
“I thought this morning, ‘this is a winnable game,” Johnson said.
Instead, Johnson was immediately having to worry about his team getting out of its own way in a passive, perplexing first half. Alabama allowed Kentucky to score just 29 points in the half, but that sort of defensive effort should have had the Crimson Tide even, or even ahead by a point or two. Instead, Alabama found itself trailing by nine. There was a comeback, one in which the crowd helped, but imagine how raucous it could have been inside Coleman if UA had ever made it a one-possession game.
There’s no way to tell if Alabama gets nervous playing at home. Johnson offered a few theories on why UA struggled, including the possibility that the Crimson Tide players gave “too much respect” to traditional power Kentucky. To be fair, Kentucky still has a better roster than Alabama, especially in terms of offensive firepower. Johnson alluded to a couple of UK players who would “be in the NBA in a year or two,” and while he never added this, Alabama doesn’t have that yet.
On the other hand, UA isn’t terrible and it should be good enough that all of its best performances don’t come on the road. The fact is, the four home games that Alabama fans would have liked to witness as wins have come and gone: Dayton (a Crimson Tide nemesis that would have given the early season some electricity), Florida, Auburn (no explanation necessary) and Kentucky. Three home games remain – LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss – but I’m not sure any of those would qualify as “breakthroughs.” That might have to wait until next year.
Until then, the Alabama crowd should give a warm round of applause to itself. These fans have earned it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.