Tide Loses Heartbreaker

Turnabout is fair play, the Arkansas Razorbacks must be thinking. In Tuscaloosa earlier this year Arkansas had a 14-point second half lead and Alabama came back to win. In Fayetteville Tuesday night the Crimson Tide had an 18-point lead early in the second half, but the Hogs were able to get their only leads in the final two minutes and took a 65-63 decision. And in both games a disparity in free throw opportunities proved to be the difference in the game.

Alabama had plenty of chances to get the win, but had some key turnovers and missed rebound opportunities. Otherwise, it would be hard to fault the Crimson Tide effort, particularly considering that Alabama finished the game with only five scholarshipped players available. The loss ruined an otherwise great night by Alabama sophomore guard Ron Steele, who had a career high 29 points.

Arkansas was almost in a must-win situation and the Razorbacks played hard and smart down the stretch to get the job done. Alabama must still be considered a likely NCAA Tournament team, but now Bama has little or no room for error.

Alabama fell to 15-10 overall and 8-5 in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas improved to 18-8 and 7-6 in SEC play.

Alabama was playing its second Tuesday road game in a row. The good news is Bama now has an extra day to get ready for a very tough test in Florida. And the Tide will actually have plenty of time to get ready since the game is not until Sunday. The Gators are 22-4 going into Wednesday night's game against Tennessee. Probably no team has had Bama's number in the Mark Gottfried era like Florida. Tipoff for that nationally-televised CBS game will be at 3 p.m. CST Sunday in Coleman Coliseum.

Arkansas trailed the entire game until tying the game at 57-57 with 2:15 to play. From there in, both teams made excellent plays. Arkansas went ahead for the first time at 59-57 on a tip-in with 1:30 to play. Bama answered with a trey by Jean Felix to give the Tide the lead with 1:17 to play. Florida got an unguarded trey with :50 seconds, but that was matched 13 seconds later by Steele (who made seven of eight three-pointers) and Alabama had a 63-62 lead in the final half minute.

Arkansas' best player, Ronnie Brewer, got a driving layup and was fouled with 20 seconds to play. His free throw gave the Razorbacks a two-point lead. Steele made a nice effort, but his layup with seconds to go was off the mark. Evan Brock was alone under the basket for the rebound, but couldn't get the putback that would have sent the game to overtime.

Alabama started fast. Although it is unusual for Steele to miss a free throw, he missed one in the opening moments, the second of two. But he got the rebound and made a trey for a four-point Bama lead, a lead that would wax and wane and then wax again, as the Tide seemingly had Arkansas waxed at halftime. Alabama had built a 37-24 lead.

The first half saw Bama get the lead out to 14 at 20-6 with 13 minutes to play. Then Arkansas went on a run to pull within three points at 22-19 with 7:30 to play. And then Bama out-scored the Hogs by 12-2 down the first half stretch.

The one negative of the first half was Bama having four men with two fouls each. That forced Bama to play zone defense throughout the game. That foul situation got worse in the second half when Jermareo Davidson picked up his fourth with just over 15 minutes to play. With just under nine and a half minutes Alonzo Gee got his fourth on an offensive foul call. Gee would foul out with 3:31 to go, a foul that gave Arkansas a chance to shoot two free throws and close to within four points at 57-53 when the Hogs made one.

Davidson, who had 10 points and eight rebounds but was not the force that might have been expected, was in early foul trouble and eventually fouled out.

Bama got a good game from Felix, who played excellent defense on Brewer and also hit four of eight three-pointers and had 12 points in the game.

Arkansas Coach Stan Heath had made an issue of the disparity of fouls and free throws in Alabama's favor in the game at Tuscaloosa won by Bama earlier in the year. He probably liked the way that phase of the game went in Fayetteville, where Arkansas was the beneficiaty of officiating. In fact, the Hogs could afford to waste a foul on Bama's last trip because Bama never got into the one-and-one bonus.

Indeed, the difference in the game was at the free throw line. Arkansas's two-point victory included Arkansas hitting 12 of 19 free throws, while Alabama shot only seven foul shots, making six of them.

The loss prevented Alabama from extending its win streak to six over Arkansas, and also kept the Crimson Tide from getting the all-time series even. The Hogs extended their lead all-time to 22-20. And the loss prevented Alabama from clinching no worse than second place in the SEC Western Division and earning the first round bye in the SEC Tournament.

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "I'm proud of our guys. We're disappointed we didn't hold on and win. We needed one more stop. We actually made the stop, but couldn't secure the rebound and they got one more chance. But every game counts as one. We'll learn from this game, but we've got to get ready for the next game."

He called the play of Steele "terrific, just phenomenal."

Gottfried said that the foul situation made it very difficult for his team. He said that was a primary reason "We didn't get a lot out of our post players." And, he said, "We turned it over too many times."

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