Coming off a home loss to lowly Mississippi State and headed to Rupp Arena in Lexington, where Kentucky has a 35-game winning streak, this might not seem to be the best time to be talking about Alabama being a so-called “bubble team” for the NCAA Tournament.
But as Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said following the Crimson Tide’s Monday practice, “Why not?” As he pointed out, the talk of potential NCAA Tournament teams is everywhere and Bama players know where they stand. “It would be irresponsible of me to not mention it. Here’s where we are, here’s what we need to do.”
As for what Alabama has to do next is take on 14th-ranked Kentucky at 6 p.m. CST Tuesday in a game that will be televised by ESPN. The game had originally been scheduled for an SEC Network telecast, but was moved to ESPN owing to the success of the two teams. Perhaps the network should have waited to make a decision. Both Alabama and Kentucky are coming off Saturday losses.
Alabama is now 16-10 overall and 7-7 in Southeastern Conference games. Kentucky is 20-7 and leads the SEC with a 10-4 record.
Yes, Kentucky is coming off a loss, 79-77 at Texas A&M in overtime. But when Alabama played the Wildcats in Tuscaloosa on Jan.9, UK was coming off an 85-67 loss at LSU. Kentucky bounced back with a 77-61 win over the Tide.
Bama had a disappointing 67-61 loss to Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa Saturday. Johnson said he thought the bounce-back in practice had been “pretty good.”
He couldn’t help but mention the disappointment of the loss. While giving Mississippi State credit, as he had following the game, he said “Our last game wasn’t our best defensively; in fact, it was one of our worst in a long time. And we could have been mentally tougher on offense. We had too many turnovers.”
He said the team had a long video session prior to Monday’s practice to look at the things that had gone wrong.
“When we went to LSU (an Alabama road win last week), our players thought it was us against the world. I didn’t see that attitude Saturday,” Johnson said.
Still, he pointed out, Alabama has “done a good job to get where we are. Now we have to finish.
“We know all things are possible. We have a chance if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Johnson said a key would be “to go on the road and give ourselves a chance to win.” He said if Alabama can get it to the last few minutes in a close game, “overall we’ve played pretty well” in that situation.
And, he said, “We can’t give them 23 rebounds like we did against Florida.” Rebounds were key in that first game as the Wildcats had a 43-25 advantage on the boards.
Alabama is expected to stick with its usual starting lineup. The Tide is led by 6-2, 210-pound senior point guard Retin Obasohan, who is averaging 16.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
On the wings will be 6-7, 203-pound sophomore Riley Norris, 8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg; and 6-6, 217-pound graduate transfer Arthur Edwards, 9.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg.
At high post will be 6-9, 228-pound junior Michael Kessens, 3.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg; and at low post 6-10, 248-pound junior Jimmie Taylor, 5.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg.
Alabama has gotten good production off the bench from 6-8, 233-pound forward Shannon Hale (11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg); 5-10, 168-pound sophomore guard Justin Coleman (8.0 ppg); and 6-9, 224-pound freshman post player Dona Hall (2.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg).
Kentucky is led by sophomore guard Tyler Ulis (5-9, 160), who leads the SEC in assists with 6.9 per game and averages 16.7 points per game and has 180 assists to only 51 turnovers. But there is more. Much more.
Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207, freshman guard, leads team at 19.3 ppg, has 83 three-pointers this season, and had 21 points against Bama in January (thought just 1-4 on treys).
The other starters are expected to be: Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224, junior forward, 6.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg; Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202, freshman guard, 9.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg; and Derek Willis, 6-9, 220, junior foward, 7.8 ppg,4.0 rpg.
The Wildcats also have a quality bench, including: Skal Labissiere, 6-11, 225, freshman forward, 6.6 ppg; and Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230, senior forward, who has not played in last four games, but averages 10 ppg, 6.6 rpg.