NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The mighty ocean that is social media has been choppy for Alabama head basketball coach Avery Johnson in the past few weeks and was rolling at tsunami force at halftime of the Crimson Tide’s Thursday SEC Tournament game.
For the usually upbeat Johnson, though, even that storm had a silver comment.
“When we got here four years ago, we’d lose a game and you might see one or two comments,” Johnson said after Alabama’s 62-57 win over Ole Miss. “Now when we lose, you see hundreds. That shows our fans are into it. They are passionate. They are engaged. If we don’t play with maximum effort, we hear about it.”
Johnson said “there might be 10 idiots out there,” but he had a “tough skin” when it comes to criticism.
“You have to understand, when we don’t play well, my wife fires me first,” Johnson joked. “So I can handle it.”
A 14-point halftime deficit certainly stoked the fires on Thursday but things grew calmer as Alabama played one of its best halves of the year to rally for the won over the Rebels. Much of that was due to an unusual move by Johnson, who shuffled his starting lineup in the season’s 32nd game, opting for sophomore Galin Smith and senior Riley Norris and a more physical, inside-oriented approach. The result was a 50-30 rebounding advantage for the Crimson Tide.
“Our physicality is the reason we won that game,” Smith said
“We’ve been trying to score 70, 80 points with a smaller lineup and it just hasn’t worked for us,” Johnson noted. “We just hadn’t played well with a small lineup. But with (Tevin) Mack, Galin and Riley out there, that’s a pretty formidable lineup physically.
“‘Frustrated’ is not a good word. It’s not a word that sends a positive message to our team. So it wasn’t that I was frustrated after the Arkansas game (a loss in Fayetteville that ended the regular season). I was thinking of ways to hit the reset button, to change the narrative.”
Changing the narrative against Kentucky, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, will not be easy. Going into Friday’s game, Alabama has not beaten UK in an SEC Tournament game since 1983, an 0-11 stretch that includes a loss to the Wildcats in each of Johnson’s first three years at UA.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.