Yesterday afternoon, I returned home from Tuscaloosa, my third trip to see the Cats take on the Crimson Tide in as many years. By now, the quick trip to T-Town is almost familiar, although I always come back with some new observations about the SEC’s biggest football town. Here are some of those, sprinkled with some lingering thoughts about the Cats’ performance Saturday night.
I’ll never get over the grandeur of the Alabama campus
My husband sat this trip out, so I brought a friend from Nashville with me. It was her first time to Tuscaloosa, and like everyone I’ve taken there, she was gobsmacked by the grandeur of the Alabama campus, particularly the fraternity and sorority houses. Even though I’ve been there several times now, the sheer size of the buildings always amazes me, and the cotton is high around the rest of the campus as well. I noticed a few new buildings since the last time with several more under construction, all in the same “HEY WE’VE GOT MONEY” brick. The new baseball stadium next to Coleman Coliseum is particularly impressive, and with the National Championship game underway on ESPN, a timely reminder that football money is treating Bama well these days.
Sorry, Isaiah Briscoe, Tyler Ulis is the biggest trash talker on this team
Coming in to this season, Isaiah Briscoe had the reputation as the biggest trash talker on the team; however, after watching this group for 15 games and sitting near the court on Saturday, I think that honor should go to Tyler Ulis. Ulis jawed throughout the game, sometimes subtly (my favorite thing about Ulis’ trash talk is that he mostly does it while smiling) and sometimes not so subtly (yelling “HOLD ME BACK” while his teammates pulled him away from Jimmie Taylor after their tie-up). The best part about Ulis? Unlike most players, he can back that trash talk up.
Simba Cam is still awesome and Rupp needs to do it
Coleman Coliseum is a far cry from Rupp Arena, but, like many smaller SEC venues, it’s got Rupp beat when it comes to in-game entertainment. Coleman had both an emcee and a DJ to entertain fans during timeouts, along with several fan “cams,” like the Kiss Cam and the Dance Cam. I’m sure you’ve heard me mention the Simba Cam in the past. The Atlanta Braves started it a few years back in honor of their shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who goes by the nickname “Simba.” When the music starts—Elton John’s “Circle of Life,” of course—parents hold their babies up like Rafiki held up Simba during “The Lion King.” Some SEC schools started doing it last season and Alabama did it on Saturday, much to my delight. Make it happen, Rupp!
I’m a fan of Avery Johnson
Coming in to Saturday’s game, I didn’t really know what to expect from Alabama’s new head coach Avery Johnson. I knew about his days in the NBA as a player and coach, of course, but how is he doing at turning around a mediocre basketball program at a football school? Pretty well, actually. Alabama is streaky as hell, but Avery had his team playing pretty good defense, and when the Crimson Tide went on their big run in the second half, Coleman was deafening. Avery seems totally committed to turning around the Tide, telling reporters that he visited seven fraternity houses on campus to encourage students to come to games, and despite the fact that many fans were out of town for the National Championship game and most students hadn’t returned to campus yet, there was a decent crowd on Saturday. Add in the fact that Johnson was gracious, affable, and hilarious in his postgame comments — “I don’t want to see Ulis again. Go to the pros.” — and he’s a snappy dresser, and I’m a fan.
I can’t tell which team this guy is rooting for
There were a lot of UK fans at the game Saturday, but none of them puzzled me more than this guy. I spotted him from the press area in the first half and during one of the timeouts, ran up to his section to take a picture of his sign. I can’t tell if he is:
- A) A Kentucky fan (shirt)
- B) A Virginia Tech fan (hat)
- C) A Clemson or an Auburn fan (sign)
- D) Someone who just really hates Alabama
The answer is probably E) all of the above, but it kind of distracted me the whole game, especially when I saw security talking to him in the second half. He didn’t get kicked out, but given all that anti-Alabama sentiment, I’m sure he got a stern talking to.
Watching Skal “be tough” is bizarre
Since Christmas break, Skal Labissiere has made a noted effort to “be tough” during games, meaning that when he dunks the ball or fights for a rebound down low, he either screams really loud or gets in his defender’s face. Skal doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, so watching him act tough is like watching a kid cuss in a movie: it’s just strange. At LSU, Skal got into it with Ben Simmons, which was kind of weird, and at Alabama, he had back-to-back jawing sessions with Alabama’s Donta Hall, which earned him a technical. I don’t know if Skal’s trying to force himself to be mean or is legitimately frustrated by everything that’s going on, but hopefully he can figure it all out without getting into a fight with the other team.
Forget Dreamland, it’s all about Archibald’s BBQ now
Wherever I go, I always ask for restaurant recommendations on Twitter. It never fails. So, when I put out the call for good spots to eat/drink in Tuscaloosa, I inevitably got about a million BBQ place recommendations. Most people suggested the famous Dreamland BBQ, but not Freddie Maggard. Freddie recommended I go to Archibald’s BBQ. Here’s the text he sent me:
“Archibald’s BBQ, try it before leaving T’Town. 1) You’ll be safe. It’s a cinder block building with 3 items on the menu. 2) It’s the top choice for natives’ tailgate food. 3) Take your gout meds because the BBQ is that good.”
Unfortunately, my road trip companion is a vegetarian, so we opted for a more veggie-friendly menu, but next time, I’m so there, especially after hearing at least two other people in Tuscaloosa rave about Archibald’s in my 18-or-so hours in town.
Best underrated sports bar in Tuscaloosa: Baumhower’s
Tuscaloosa has several great sports bars, but somehow, I always end up at Baumhower’s, a popular restaurant and sports bar near the hotel in which we usually stay. You all know I’m a sports bar connoisseur, and Baumhower’s has it all: TONS of TVs with the sound on, good beer selection, and good bar food, particularly the wings. Even better is the people watching. When my postgame duties were over, my friend and I went to Baumhower’s to watch the rest of the Bengals/Steelers game, and lucked into two spots at the bar. Between people there to eat, people there to cheer on AJ McCarron, and two busloads of UK fans celebrating the win, the place was packed. We stayed ’til the bitter end of the game and even though it wasn’t the outcome we all wanted, I’m happy this place is on my Tuscaloosa checklist.
The postgame moment between C.M. Newton and John Calipari was really cool
After the game, John Calipari spotted C.M. Newton in the back of the media room and went and gave him a big hug, after which the two chatted for a while. I interviewed C.M. about it and posted the story yesterday, but looking back, that was a really neat moment to witness. Calipari has a lot of haters, but he’s also got a lot of people whom he genuinely loves and appreciates, and he never fails to reach out to them when he can. You could tell it made C.M.’s night.
When UK’s starters are rolling like that, this team is hard to beat
I’ll be honest: I was pretty down after the LSU loss. In the days after, I even accepted that this team probably isn’t going to make it to the Final Four; therefore, nothing made me happier than their performance on Saturday. Sure, there are things to nitpick — Alex Poythress and Jamal Murray accounting for almost all of UK’s first half points is a little alarming — but it was nice to see Kentucky bounce back and get a much-needed win. When all five starters are playing well, this team is tough to beat, and in a year in which there isn’t one clear favorite to win it all, that might be enough; however I need to see that on a much more consistent basis before I even think about Houston in the first week of April.
Still, Saturday’s win felt good, and Tuscaloosa is always a treat.