Tide's Steele Sees Another Tough Game

One can only imagine what goes on behind the closed doors of Alabama's new men's basketball practice facility. When Alabama announced its starting lineup for the Crimson Tide's game against Tennessee, it was already known that JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell wouldn't be in the starting lineup.

But when it was announced that Coach Anthony Grant's Alabama team would have little-used sophomore Moussa Gueye as the starting center against the Vols, that caught almost everyone by surprise. And then it was revealed that Gueye would be starting with, essentially, four guards – junior Andrew Steele and true freshmen Levi Randolph, Trevor Lacey, and Rodney Cooper.

Where was freshman Nick Jacobs, the 6-8, 250-pound freshman who had been the key replacement in games when JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell were out?

And where was all-star point guard Trevor Releford, Bama's leading scorer with Green and Mitchell sidelined?

It had been known that Jacobs had suffered a dental injury in an earlier practice. It turned out that he had developed an infection and had to undergo a root canal. And Releford had shown symptoms of a concussion in practice and had missed some work.

Jacobs did not play in the 62-50 win over Tennessee. Releford came on in relief.

"It's always physical," Steele said. "We go hard most of the time in practice. The things is that you can't go into practice or a game worried about getting hurt because the times when you play half-speed or cautious is when the injuries will usually happen. I think we try to make practice as much like a game as possible so it's typical of how practice goes and those incidents are unfortunate but it's nothing out of the ordinary."

That coming from a player whose career was thought to have ended when he suffered concussions in 2011. Now Steele is back and playing very well for the Crimson Tide.

Steele and his Bama teammates are now preparing to go to Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks. in Fayetteville at 6 p.m. CST Thursday. The game will be televised by ESPN2. Alabama, which defeated the Hogs in Tuscaloosa by 72-66 in late January, is now 17-9 overall and 6-6 in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas is 17-10, including a 5-7 SEC record.

Without Green and Mitchell, will Alabama have to make a lot of changes in its game plan?

Steele said, "We try not to change too much. I think each game calls for a different situation, but the core things that we try to focus on like defending, rebounding and getting out in transition, I don't think those things change. Obviously when you go through each game you have to make certain adjustments but I think we just need to stick to playing sound defense.

" It always starts on the defensive end. We feel like if we can defend and rebound and get out in transition so we can get easy baskets we will be fine. But the main thing is to make sure we defend. I think the turning point last time we played them was down the stretch when we needed stops we got them and I think that's what we have hung our hat on all year. I think if we keep those things going we will be fine."

Steele remembers the first game against the Razorbacks as being a tough one.

"It was a hard-fought game," he said. "It was the kind of game where we were comfortable because they do a lot of the things that we do in terms of style of play. I think they pressed the whole game. It was up and down, the pace was really fast. We understand they are a tough team, I think we only won by six and we are going to their home building where they just lost a game to a good Florida team so we understand it's going to be a tough challenge for us."

Steele said it will not be a surprise to see Arkansas attempt to stop the Bama offense with a zone defense. He said, "I think we have gotten better at playing against a zone and we have seen it a lot so it's not surprising. I think the thing we have to keep in mind is to constantly stay aggressive. Earlier in the season when we saw zone we kind of froze up and got timid. We just need to make sure we stay aggressive against it. We need to have constant ball movement and player movement. I think we need to keep attacking. Especially last game we did a good job of attacking the rim and that shouldn't change much against the zone. We have to make sure we have people comfortable to take open shots when they are there but we still need to get inside and penetrate."

Arkansas's Bud Walton Arena has a reputation as a tough place to play. Steele said, "They've got a good basketball tradition and their fans are really passionate about basketball. Mike Anderson coming home has added some excitement because he was a part of a lot of the tradition that they have. It's a big arena and their crowd gets into a frenzy. They do everything they can to make the game as tough as they can for you. It's one of the toughest environments I've been in. We understand that the crowd can't come on the court and play, so we understand the game will be settled on the court. You have to put all of that out of your mind. Once you start playing, you don't think about it too much."

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