Head Coach Mark Gottfried watched helplessly from the sideline as his team struggled to score. "We were stuck on 8-10 points in the first half versus Kentucky seemingly forever," Gottfried said. "Things went against us, and we looked shaken. And that can't happen."
It wasn't quite "forever," but Gottfried's perception wasn't far off. 10 minutes and 35 seconds later, a Kenny Walker free throw pushed Bama's point total to 11. But by then the pattern was set. For the game Alabama was a miserable 10-of-42 on field goals, just 23.8 percent.
The Wildcats employed a simple, but devastatingly effective strategy against Alabama. Shut down Mo Williams and Erwin Dudley, and their task was done. Kentucky Head Coach Tubby Smith explained afterwards. "A lot of their offense runs through Williams. We tried to control and contain him. We also tried to double-team their post players and make them pass out to their second and third options."
With its two "go to" men taken away, the Tide offense looked inept.
"It was embarrassing," senior center Kenny Walker (who himself went 0-for-7 on the night) said afterwards. "People aren't going to give you wins, you have to fight for them."
Emmett Thomas actually played fairly well in defeat, but his 13 points weren't nearly enough to make a difference. "I don't know; we're just shooting bad," Thomas said. "It's a matter of going out and executing."
Proving conclusively that pollsters don't actually watch the teams play that they vote for, Alabama is still ranked in both polls this week. But the formerly No. 1 team in the nation now sports a 2-4 conference record, and Saturday's performance was the Tide's poorest offensive performance in recent memory.
"We're very frustrated right now, and that's my responsibility," Gottfried said. "We have to find some answers. We've got to take a good hard look at ourselves. We're going to work hard this week in practice, very hard."
The problem started with poor outside shooting, but lately it has also bled over to the Tide's once reliable inside game. Last year's SEC Player of the Year, Erwin Dudley was 0-for-6 versus the Wildcats, managing only six points from the free throw line. "You can't blame the coach," Dudley said. "We've got to knock down our shots. It's very frustrating."
As poorly as Dudley performed Saturday, there is little doubt he'll bounce back. He's scored double figures in 11 of the Tide's 17 games this year, and Mo Williams has been even more consistent, scoring 10 or more points in all but three contests.
But several other key players--notably Walker, Terrance Meade and Earnest Shelton--have been maddeningly inconsistent on offense. From one game to the next the three will essentially disappear from the stat sheet, putting enormous pressure on Bama's two all-star players.
"Our offense starts with Dudley, but transition baskets are something we've lacked," Gottfried commented. "I want to be a team with a confident and aggressive offense. Every team I've coached has played with a lot of confidence on offense. Right now we're in a transition mode from where we want to be."
The addition of true freshman Kennedy Winston into the lineup has affected the team's chemistry, but too many players appear to be playing scared. "We're tentative," Gottfried acknowledged. "And I don't want us to be. We've got to open it up and play. We're hesitant to shoot. We're hesitant to pass the ball. We're too tight. We've got to just let it go.
"If we want to be a great team, then we've got to have guys that can go out and get you some baskets."
Last year's regular season league champion, with four losses already it'll be hard for Alabama to duplicate that feat. Gottfried constantly contends that top-to-bottom the SEC is the nation's toughest conference. At this point goals probably need to be reassessed. Work hard and get better every week. Reestablish some confidence, pointing toward year's end and tournament play.
With their backs pinned to the wall, Gottfried knows his team has no other choice. "If we're playing like this at the end of the season, then we're dead."