Alabama will have its first road game in 10 days when the Crimson Tide takes on Tennessee at 2 p.m. EST (1 p.m. central time) at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville Saturday. the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Once upon a time, before the Southeastern Conference expanded, league basketball teams determined a true regular season champion by playing every other team home and away. Not anymore. This year marks the first time since the 2008-09 season Bama and UT will square off twice in the same year.
The two teams last met two weeks ago on Jan. 12 in Tuscaloosa, with Alabama getting 68-65 decision. Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey and junior guard Trevor Releford led the Crimson Tide with 15 points apiece. Sophomore guard Levi Randolph had 12 points to add to his team high six rebounds, while senior guard Andrew Steele added a season-high 11 points off the bench.
Alabama’s win over Tennessee was the first in a current four-game Bama winning streak. The Tide is now 12-6 overall and 4-1 in SEC play. Bama is coming off a 59-55 win over Kentucky and back-to-back dramatic come-from-behind wins over Texas A&M and the Wildcats. Bama also had to fight from behind in its earlier meeting against Tennessee as Alabama had a 10-0 run in the final five minutes to pull out the win.
“We were fortunate to win the game,” Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said of the game two weeks ago.”
Tennessee comes into Saturday’s contest with a 9-8 mark and a 1-4 record in SEC play. Most recently, the Volunteers dropped a 62-56 decision at No. 23 Ole Miss on Thursday night.
Grant said the Vols’ record does not really tell the story.
“I think in just about every game that they’ve played in the SEC outside of their first game against Ole Miss, really a possession or two different and they could be 4-1,” Grant said. “We have to understand is we are dealing with a team that is, for lack of a better cliché, probably a wounded animal. We’re walking in their building right now with their backs against the wall. The understanding that our guys have to have this upcoming game, is that we have to really lock in and understand what we have to do to go in there and have a chance to be successful.”
Grant said Alabama and Tennessee having faced one another recently “is different because we’re both familiar with each other. We can both look at the game. I’m sure they are looking at it and saying, ‘If we did a, b, and c a little differently, than the outcome could’ve been different.’
“Really, at the end of the game Andrew (Steele) made three big-time plays in a matter 40 seconds that probably changed the outcome of the game for us. Just being honest, they outplayed us in a lot of ways. I think we look at that game and see some things we need to make adjustments with. I think both of us have probably changed a little bit since the last time that we’ve played. You know a lot of other things, physically and mentally, go into it as well.”
Although Alabama is on a four-game winning streak with an emotional win over Kentucky, Grant is not impressed with how the team has reacted. He said based on Thursday’s practice, “We didn’t handle it very well. We need to be able to lock in and understand what we’re walking into and what we are as a basketball team. Hopefully we’ll be locked in and understand that we’ll be dealing with a very good basketball team that is hungry and eager. We have to be able to match that intensity.”
Alabama is led by Releford, who anchors an Alabama backcourt that features the top four scorers on this year’s team. A preseason All-SEC honoree and Cousy Award nominee, Releford ranks sixth in the league in scoring at 16.0 points per game and is third in the SEC with an average of 17.3 ppg in conference play. In addition, the Kansas City, Mo., native is second in the league in free throw percentage (.857), fourth in field goal percentage (.485) and seventh in steals (1.8 pg).
Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game and leads the team in three-point field goal percentage for the season (43.8 per cent). He also tops the team in three pointers made (35) and attempted (80) and assists (3.6 pg). Combined, the duo of Releford and Lacey contributes 28.2 points per game, or approximately 43 percent of the team’s 65.1 points per game.
Sophomore guard Rodney Cooper also averages double figures with 11.3 ppg. He leads the team in offensive rebounding (2.1 pg) and total field goals attempted (180) and ranks second in rebounding (4.1 pg).
Tennessee is led by junior guard Jordan McRae with 14.5 points per game. He has been even more impressive in league play, as he ranks second in SEC games only with 21.6 points per contest, including a career-high 26 points against the Rebels on Thursday. He also tops the team in minutes (30.1 pg), field goals made (82) and attempted (184) and free throws made (58) and attempted (74).
Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes (10.9 ppg) and junior guard Trae Golden (10.8 ppg) each average double figures for the Volunteers. Stokes leads the team on the boards (7.5 pg), while Golden tops the squad in assists (4.3 pg).
Saturday’s game will mark the 141st between the schools, which ranks as the fifth-most common opponent in UA program history. The Tide owns a 75-65 edge in the series, which includes a 21-42 record in games played in Knoxville.