College basketball: Up-and-down Alabama hoping to keep winning streak going
Avery Johnson heeded his wife's advice instead of breaking out the old psychology books.
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The early returns were good. Alabama (16-9, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) didn't suffer the familiar letdown after a 28-point win over No. 18 Tennessee. Instead, the Tide built a 25-point lead and walloped LSU 80-65 on Tuesday night.
ICYMI - If you missed last night's game, you missed out! But don't worry, we've got you covered! Watch all the high-flyin' excitement from the big win over LSU.#RollTide#BuckleUp pic.twitter.com/HPPhpZMrQK— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) February 14, 2018
"We haven't been able to have that high level of concentration and competitive spirit in these short turnarounds," Johnson said. "We beat a really good Florida team and then the next game I don't recognize our team. And we've had that happen so many times this season."
Besides the one-on-one chats, Johnson also had a pre-game shoot around with closer to practice-like intensity and worked hard on shooting in practice while skipping what he called the "cute drills."
Alabama is trying to continue that momentum and burnish its NCAA Tournament resume with Saturday's visit to Kentucky (17-9, 6-7), which has lost four straight games.
Johnson doesn't believe his young team will be awed by the storied atmosphere at Rupp Arena.
"They're just going up there to play basketball," he said. "And if we can get the type of focus we've been getting recently, it plays well on the road or at home. Or if we go back to being middle-schoolers, then we're not going to be successful."
The Tide has won its last five games against Top 25 teams. Alabama has beaten No. 23 Oklahoma, only to lose to Missouri in Coleman Coliseum. The Tide followed a lopsided road win over then-No. 23 Florida with a loss to Mississippi State.
Youth might explain some of the inconsistent play. Led by freshman point guard Collin Sexton, most of Alabama's key players are underclassmen.
"We're a young team," sophomore forward Braxton Key said. "It takes a while. I know it's the end of the season, it's frustrating to us that it took us this long because we took a lot of losses that we should have had wins.
"We're starting to get more comfortable with each other. We've got chemistry a lot better. We're just trusting each other more and trusting the coaches. They've been trusting us. We've got to trust them."
Key, last year's leading scorer, has played well coming off the bench the past two games.
But more importantly, center Donta Hall has delivered two huge games. He has totaled 37 points and 19 rebounds against Tennessee and LSU while making 8 of 10 shots in each game.
Sexton, meanwhile, is averaging a team-best 18.3 points a game while Alabama is also getting big contributions from fellow freshmen John Petty, a starter, and Herbert Jones.
Johnson said after the LSU win that the "next big game" would be practice. He's thinking moves like stepping up the intensity in pre-game warmups could help but is mainly emphasizing relationships with his players.
"Maybe that's what we need to do a little bit more after we win a big game, just keep them on edge," Johnson said. "I think a lot of that's coaching. The X's and O's is not coaching all the time. It's just trying to build relationships, trying to get these kids to respond, trying to get them to just trust us to do the right thing and trust that what we're telling them is not only going to help Alabama, it's also going to help them individually."
The home-cooked meals don't hurt, either.