Mizzou Arena was a source of misery for Nate Oats and Alabama basketball. Since taking over the Crimson Tide in 2019, the head coach has aborted all three of his trips to Missouri, marking the only SEC venue where he has trained and not achieved a win.
The matchup on Saturday shouldn’t be easy either. No. 4 Alabama will take on a Missouri team that has won its last five home games, including a 79-76 win over No. 25 Arkansas earlier this week as well as upsets against then-No. 4 Alabama. 19 Kentucky and then-no. 16 Illinois last month.
Taming the tigers on court will be difficult enough, but the Crimson Tide will also face the challenge of shutting down a potentially vocal student section during an emotional time for the program.
It’s been a tumultuous week for Alabama following Sunday’s arrest of Darius Miles on capital homicide charges. The former Alabama player was one of two men arrested in the fatal shooting of Jamea Jones Harris, a 23-year-old mother of a 5-year-old.
Not only could the situation take an emotional toll on Alabam’s team, but it could also be a target on the back of the Crimson Tide when it comes to facing criticism from opposing fans. On Friday, Oats said that wasn’t a problem in Tuesday night’s 78-66 win in Vanderbilt. However, Alabama could face a more rowdy bunch on Saturday in Columbia, Missouri.
“I spoke to our team about this,” Oats said. “Basically what I said to them is this: if people want to be ignorant and say things that are completely off the mark – and in that case I would think that’s not a case where someone got into trouble. These are serious matters. There is a 5 year old, Kaine, who no longer has a mother.
“I don’t see that as something for the students to joke about. If anyone says anything, I just told our guys, you have to be strong enough, tough enough. We’re here to play basketball. We know who we are, what we’ve done. We’re not – if they yell at us, they’re totally out of line. ignore her Go on.”
It’s not just personal heckling, either. Oats has also warned its players about potential abuse they may face on social media and urged them to take the same collected approach.
“Nobody has any idea what we’re going through in our shoes in these cases,” Oats said. “It’s a difficult situation to be in. When some idiots want to come after you on social media, they show how ignorant they are.”
On the surface, Alabama’s back-to-back road games this week are less than ideal given the mental strain the team is going through. However, Oats said the time away from home was actually beneficial for his players and served as a distraction from a roller-coaster week.
“To be honest, the two car trips in a row after the whole incident isn’t the worst thing that can happen,” Oats said. “You go out, spend time together, heal together, talk about it. I think it’s actually a good situation.”
Alabama was unable to fly back from Tuesday night’s game and instead traveled back to Tuscaloosa by bus from Nashville. The impromptu road trip included an overnight stop at popular gas station chain Buc-ee’s while players laughed while stocking up on snacks.
Freshman forward Brandon Miler, who grew up in the Nashville area, even jokingly offered to host the team at his home if needed.
“I got on the mic to talk about the bus and told them what the scenario was,” Oats said. “Brandon texted me from the back of the bus and said, ‘Staying at the Miller house.’ I said ‘All 50 of us?’ He said, “Yeah, it would be about as tight as that bus.”
According to Oats, Alabama was able to go through its typical schedule this week, taking Wednesday off before resuming film judging and training on Thursday and Friday. Alabama (16-2, 6-0 in the SEC) and Missouri (14-4, 3-3) will be announced at 5:30 p.m. CT Saturday.
“Everyone still takes it day in, day out,” Oats said. “Everyone processes things differently. And I mean, different guys feel different every day but still rely on each other for support.”