Like It Is

Second half delivers Alabama

Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. (3) works past Alabama guard Mark Sears (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Alabama fired out of the dressing room to start the second half Saturday and Arkansas walked out.

The Razorbacks let a nine-point halftime lead become a 75-63 deficit as the Crimson Tide attacked the rim on almost every possession and played defense with an intense desire that was missing in the first half.

On a day when the three wasn’t falling, the Crimson Tide took the high percentage shots that weren’t there in the first half because the Razorback defense was collapsing in the paint and helping.

The 48-26 run to the open the second half seemed to have the Hogs on their heels, but they went back to protecting the basket and challenging shots. When Davonte Davis hit a three, Nick Smith followed with a steal and a dunk to make it 75-70 with 1:49 to play.

Arkansas would get a three-point play by Davis to make it a one possession game with 8.8 seconds to play. But the long three for the tie missed and Alabama got the win 86-83.

It was a far cry from their first meeting when the Crimson Tide, now No. 2 in the nation, marched into Bud Walton, outscored the Hogs 51-36 in the second half and won 84-69.

Besides Arkansas slow start to the second half, the two biggest keys were getting beat on the boards and missing free throws.

Arkansas lost by three, missed six free throws and was outrebounded 48-37, which at one time in the second half was 15-2 to Bama’s advantage. But that was when the Razorbacks were in a lull.

Alabama is good and Arkansas has improved. Now the burning question in the SEC office will be how do they name Brandon Miller the SEC Player of the Week?

It was revealed last Tuesday that he delivered the pistol to his teammate Darius Miles, who reportedly gave it to someone named Michael Davis and when he got through firing it nine times at a car, Jamea Jonae Harris was dead.

Miles and Davis have been charged with capital murder.

Miller has continued to be the big cog in the Tide’s wheel, scoring 41 against South Carolina on Wednesday and 24 against the Razorbacks.

If the SEC names him Player of the Week, it will be criticized widely, as has Alabama, which kept him on the team.

After watching him Saturday, it is easy to say the Tide would not be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament without him.

The loss should not hurt the Hogs in the NET rankings or tournament seedings, because in the end they played the Tide off their feet and would have won if not for the slow second-half start.

Arkansas didn’t play a perfect first half. There is no such thing. But defensively, they were very close.

The offense was good enough for 37-28 halftime lead, and it was no fluke. In the opening 20 minutes, the Razorbacks were clearly the better team and it was primarily because of their defense.

Every player took on the challenge of stopping the ball, protecting the rim and limiting Miller, and when Davonte Davis needed help guarding him — despite giving up 5 inches he didn’t need it much — but when he did he got it.

Alabama loves the three-point shot but because of the Hogs defense they were 3-22 behind the arc as the Razorbacks wouldn’t allow the Tide to set their feet or square up.

They made just 10 of 33 field goals in the first half but 19-34 in the fateful second half.

Arkansas had five first-half steals by five different players and would finish with 12 steals but after scoring eight points off turnovers in the first half, the Hogs got only four in the second half.

A slow start in the SEC will get you beat, but the Hogs proved how much they’ve improved with the return of Nick Smith.