Stuart McNair

There is much on the line for Alabama in final four games

Alabama had 20-point win over Georgia in Athens earlier this season

Basketball is a tournament game, and as such those teams in contention for tournament berths have to be successful in the stretch run. Alabama has four regular season games remaining that can have an effect on the Crimson Tide’s position in the upcoming Southeastern Conference Tournament, and perhaps in the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama has four games remaining. Crimson Tide Coach Avery Johnson’s team is at 16-10 overall and 9-5 in SEC play. That SEC record is tied for fifth in the conference with Arkansas (which hosts Texas A&M tonight), a half game behind South Carolina, which dropped to 10-5 with a loss at Florida Tuesday.
Two of Bama’s remaining games are in Coleman Coliseum, beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday when the Tide hosts Georgia. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. CST with the telecast on ESPN2.
“We’re at that stretch of the season where every game is seriously significant,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that his team knows the situation. That situation is that if Alabama can finish in the top four in the SEC it will earn a double bye in the tournament, which begins March 8 in Nashville. Alabama has the head-to-head advantage against South Carolina, but Arkansas has the head-to-head against Alabama.
“We’ve talked about it,” Johnson said. But now the talk is on Georgia.
“What we can control is how we play Thursday,” he said.
Georgia is 16-12 overall and 6-8 in the conference. The teams played earlier in Athens with Bama having one of its best games of the year, an 80-60 win that is the worst conference loss the Bulldogs have suffered.
Georgia has lost two close games to Kentucky (one in overtime) and two close games to Florida (also one in overtime), the league leaders, and two close games to South Carolina, as well as a one-point loss at Texas A&M.
“Georgia has had hard luck,” Johnson said. “They are probably three or four games better than their record.”
More hard luck hit the Bulldogs in last week’s loss at Kentucky when Bulldogs leading scorer Yante Maten (18.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game) was lost to injury. Although he has been pronounced as out for the final four games of regular season, Johnson said Maten is in the Alabama scouting report and the Tide will prepare for him “just in case.”
He said that sometimes when a star player goes out, the opponent can be lulled into complacency, perhaps have a bad practice, maybe get off to a slow start in the game.
The Alabama coach also said that Georgia has played well this year when Maten was out.
He pointed to guard J.J.Frazier, who had 36 points in the loss to Kentucky last week. “He’s capable of getting 30 every night,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have his best game against us and he’ll want to make up.” Frazier averages 17.3 points per game, but managed only 4 points in the loss to Bama in Athens.
Alabama is coming off back-to-back wins and will be trying to win three consecutive SEC games for the first time this year. The Tide is also trying to get a fourth sweep against teams Alabama plays twice in the 18-game SEC schedule. Bama has won both games against Mississippi State, LSU, and Missouri, but lost two games to Auburn.
Alabama got 26 points from freshman Braxton Key and 15 each from Riley Norris and Corban Collins  in the win at Georgia. Maten had 20 for the Bulldogs.


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