Nick Jacobs was MVP last time Alabama played LSU, but he might not be available Saturday when the Crimson Tide heads to Baton Rouge to play the Tigers for a second time this season.
Jacobs, who hasn’t missed a game this year, strained his back after only playing 15 minutes Wednesday in a 64-56 win over Mississippi State.
But Alabama (18-8, 10-3 SEC) needs the sophomore forward to contain LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III, who is averaging 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per conference game. He is also tied for the league lead with 11 double-doubles this season.
“It’s always going to be a team game,” said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant when asked how important it is to have Jacobs to matchup with O’Bryant. “We need all the available players that we have. It’s always going to be paramount to make sure that we take care of the safety and health of our players above anything else. If he’s available, he’ll be ready to go.”
The Tide and Tigers (15-9, 6-7) tip off Saturday at the Maravich Center at 12:40 p.m. CT. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
In Alabama and LSU’s first meeting on Feb. 9, O’Bryant scored 22 points and had 11 boards in a 60-57 loss to the Tide. Jacobs led Bama with 15 points and added five rebounds (four in the second half) and three blocks. He also went 7-8 from the free throw line, four of which came in the final five minutes.
“We’ll see where he’s at today,” Grant said Friday. “He still was a little sore yesterday.”
Alabama also might be without senior guard Andrew Steele (ankle), who has missed the past two games. Grant said he will be a “game-time decision.”
After Wednesday’s victory over MSU, Grant expressed his frustration regarding the lack of consistency in his team this season. It’s something he hopes they can figure out before the SEC Tournament, which begins on March 13.
“When you’re a young basketball team, you lose track of the main goal,” said junior guard Trevor Releford. “[Coach Grant] preaches to us every day about controlling our own destiny. I think everybody that listens to his message is ready to take on the challenge.”
Half of Alabama’s team—and three of its five starters—is made up of underclassmen, but is youth an excuse for inconsistency?
“It’s real,” Grant said. “We’re dealing with college students that have a lot going on in terms of the demands of being a college athlete, the demands of being a student, individual, personal things that go on as well. For lack of a better word, there are always distractions.
“Sometimes I think it’s very easy to get complacent no matter what you do. For our guys, it’s a constant challenge to stay focused on the task at hand and understand not to lose sight of the process, so to speak. Some of that has to do with maturity that you see sometimes with young teams having to understand that.”
The Tide has had to win close games all season. In fact the team has only won four conference games by more than four points this year. Alabama currently sits in second place in the SEC, just one game behind Florida, so now would be the perfect time to start showing some consistent play with just five regular season games to go.
Junior guard Trevor Releford only needs two more steals to become the program’s all-time leader. He has 175 right now. The record is currently owned by Senario Hillman, who made 176 in his four-year career.
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