BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — USC forward Chris Moore could see it in his teammates' eyes, their body language, their listless expressions of self-doubt.
"Our guys would come down the court, pull up and take a shot, watch it miss and then dwell on it," Moore said. "You dwell on it, you get beat."
After the Trojans' 78-69 loss to Alabama before 7,123 fans at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Saturday, Moore dwelled on the disturbing trend that has sent his team to a 1-4 start.
"These guys have no confidence," said Moore, a Birmingham native who led the Trojans with 14 points. "When you miss, you miss. You forget about it, go back on defense and play hard. You get the ball back and you believe you're going to make it when you shoot. But this team doesn't believe."
Not only did the lack of offensive confidence hurt the Trojans, it caused mental lapses on defense, according to Moore. And more often than not, easy Alabama baskets followed the Trojans' poor execution.
"It's hard to guard somebody when you're still thinking about that shot you missed," Moore said.
Oddly enough, the Trojans, a poor shooting team that had averaged 39% entering the game, outshot Alabama, 61% to 51%. They even made 10 of 14 three-point attempts but rebounded poorly and committed 22 turnovers.
"It's obvious we still have a lot of work to do," USC Coach George Raveling said.
The Crimson Tide (4-0) limited forward Chris Munk, the Trojans' leading scorer, to four points, eight below his average. Anthony Pendleton scored 12 and Dave Wiltz added 11.
"I'm still in a slump," Pendleton said. "It's frustrating, and I'm trying to pull myself out of it, but I can't rush it."
While USC players apparently took shots they didn't believe they could make, Alabama junior college transfer Alvin Lee felt he couldn't miss. He rarely did, hitting 8 of 11 three-pointers en route to 33 points.
"I said going into the game I wouldn't miss," Lee said. "I hit one, then another, then another. I felt like I could make it every time. I didn't even think about missing."
"He's not a bad shooter is he?" Alabama Coach Wimp Sanderson said. "I don't know if he can do that every day, but I'm glad we had him today."
Sanderson was happy to escape with a win.
"It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it," he said. "We played well in spurts, but we couldn't get any kind of lead until the second half."
Forward Michael Ansley scored 14 points and center William Devaughn added 12 for Alabama.
But both players got into foul trouble early and were ineffective in the first half. Alabama relied on Lee's hot hand and USC's mistakes to stay in the game. USC led, 33-31, after a first half that had seven lead changes, but it squandered numerous chances to put the game out of reach.
"We had some chances to take over, but I think some of the younger players let the crowd get to them," Wiltz said.
Devaughn scored off the glass two minutes into the second half to give the Crimson Tide the lead for good, 37-35. Alabama's margin would reach 10 points (52-42) at the 12:54 mark, due in part to surprisingly good play off the bench.
"I thought that was probably the key to the game," Raveling said. "Some of their starters got into foul trouble, and they were able to put in people who responded and kept things going."
USC pulled within five at 74-69 with 51 seconds left as Moore netted a 10-foot jumper. But the Trojans couldn't escape Lee, who hit 4 of 4 at the free-throw line in the final minute.
"We forced a couple of turnovers and put ourselves in position to win the game," Moore said. "Then we started making mistakes. This team doesn't know itself yet."