TUSCALOOSA — Trying rid itself of this nightmare required Alabama to wake up.
The team gathered at 6 a.m. Thursday morning inside its practice gym. Fittingly, full-court layup lines were run.
Two nights before, it missed 15 layups. Twenty-six first-half shots, too, part of a humiliating 73-52 loss to Florida in the Crimson Tide’s final regular-season home game, the fourth consecutive loss in a spiraling season that once contained so much promise.
“Sometimes it’s just a coach’s decision especially coming off of a day off, you might want to try to emphasize something and send a message,” said Tide coach Avery Johnson, who noted he called an early morning practice last season prior to a four-overtime victory against South Carolina.
“Just trying to wake them up a little bit. Hopefully we get some carryover into the game.”
One regular-season game remains, a Saturday matinee at Texas A&M, a team once ranked as high as No. 5 in the country.
The Aggies sustained a five-game losing streak to open conference play, one Alabama started with with a 79-57 romp inside Coleman Coliseum on Dec. 30, that kind of sparkling performance against a ranked team that’s made the Crimson Tide’s decline so maddening.
Asked Friday if he thought Alabama had accomplished enough to earn an NCAA tournament at-large bid — it has five Quadrant 1 wins and five wins against AP Top-25 teams — Johnson said he “hopes so.”
“Talk is cheap. We have to play,” Johnson said. “That’ll make our case for us, playing good basketball and winning some games at the end of the year.”
Doing so requires an offensive renaissance, beginning in the middle. Forward Donta Hall, he of a 73 percent shooting clip and 64 dunks, has attempted 11 shots in the team’s last three games, scoring a combined 14 points. He played just 17 minutes against the Gators.
Hall bears some responsibility. Johnson hinted Friday the 6-foot-9 junior must set better screens to make defenders help. Doing so can free him in the lane off pick-and-roll plays, inviting teammates to lob passes.
“We have to look for him more,” forward Braxton Key said. “Coach has been emphasizing that we need to get him the ball more. When he gets it, he usually makes it, and against A&M it will be pivotal for him to get the ball inside.”
Giving Hall touches is one thing. Producing off of them is another — something eluding Alabama in its current stretch. Those aforementioned layups come to mind.
“We could run the Celtics offense and the Warriors offense but if you miss layups, miss shots, it’s not going to work,” guard Avery Johnson Jr. said. “We’ve been focusing on that, but executing starts with cutting harder, spacing has to be good and have confidence to take and make the shot and the play is going to work.
“Just like we did in all those Quadrant 1 wins we have, we have to get back to that so we get this thing rolling again.”
Rolling toward one goal.
“It’s March and everybody’s fighting for the same thing,” Johnson Jr. said. “Nobody’s fighting to go to the NIT.”