Is it time for Alabama basketball to press the panic button? Here's what Nate Oats said.

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Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats chose to say the same word, or variations of it, nine times after a 78-76 loss at Mississippi State on Saturday.

Tough.

Nine times, he either said tough, tougher or toughness and how Alabama has, in that regard, fallen up short.

"We've got to show some toughness about us," Oats said. "We've got to do it for 40 minutes. We can't do it for 32."

Toughness has been one of several ingredients lacking in the Crimson Tide kitchen of late. Alabama (11-6, 2-3 SEC) has lost three straight and four of the past six, now almost a third of its way through the SEC schedule.

The team that showed up in December and beat top-ranked teams like Gonzaga and Houston feels more like a thing of the past. Especially considering two of the past three losses have come to unranked SEC teams.

Despite all of that, it's not time to panic just yet. There's still plenty of basketball to be played, and multiple elite teams remain on the schedule - Baylor, Kentucky and Auburn - that the Crimson Tide will have a chance to beat and boost its resume.

Much will have to change, though. And fast. Alabama is running out of time to make those adjustments.

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Rebounds are one area that especially proved problematic against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs outrebounded Alabama 43-32. The Crimson Tide has been outrebounded 205-188 over five SEC games.

Winning the rebound battle doesn't directly translate to wins, but it certainly goes a long way. Plus, outrebounding another team has greater ramifications.

"I think it's more of a mindset deal," Oats said. "I think guys have got to get a little tougher. They’ve got to decide, ‘We’re going to rebound the ball' if you really want to win."

Alabama also needs to shoot better, specifically from the perimeter. The Crimson Tide has shot 27.2% from 3-point range during SEC play. Compare that to how Alabama's 3-point field goal percentage from the big wins against Gonzaga and Houston: 38.46%.

Too often, 3-pointers have come to late in games to make a serious impact.

Alabama could also make some lineup changes. Oats clearly wanted to make it known to his players that it was a possibility when he spoke after the loss to Mississippi State.

“Winning is hard," Oats said. "So we have to do some hard things to win in this league. We have to make some hard decisions as coaches: Who’s going to play? Who’s not? We’ve got to find five guys who are tough enough to guard and rebound and maybe it slows our offense up. The goal is not to have scoring titles here. The goal is to win games. If we’ve got to play a little different lineup to get a little tougher to win some games, then that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Notice that word again? Perhaps Oats inserted variations of 'tough' so often into his vernacular postgame because he knows that if Alabama doesn't find a way to embody the word soon, the route to a finish the Crimson Tide wants could also prove tough.

"I thought we had a team that could compete for a league title, and we’re just not quite as tough as we need to be to compete for a league title at this point," Oats said. "Maybe they’ll figure it out. Maybe it will come. But we’ve got to get tougher moving forward."

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Is it time for Alabama basketball to press the panic button?

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