The Alabama basketball team of Coach Mark Gottfried has had a tough time in November-December, posting only a 6-4 record and losing three games at home. It will be difficult to end the calendar year on a high note since the Crimson Tide is taking on an Oklahoma team that is 7-2 and ranked 14th in the nation.
Alabama will continue with the big lineup that was unveiled in Tuesday's 101-66 pasting of Jackson State. That is freshman Richard Hendrix (6-8, 265) moving into the starting five in place of 6-6 senior Jean Felix.
Hendrix performed very well in his first start, leading the Tide in scoring with 23 points and rebounding with 12 and blocked shots with four. But, of course, Jackson State is not Oklahoma.
Bama's Chuck Davis (6-8, 230) is considered one of the nation's top players. The last time Alabama played Oklahoma Davis was a freshman and he didn't even get into the game. (He was playing behind 2002 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Erwin Dudley.)
Alabama won that last meeting, 68-62, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament in New York, but the Sooners have a 3-1 lead in the series.
Davis, who averages 18 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, is Alabama's lone senior starter. Hendrix, who is averaging 8.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, is joined by another freshman in Alabama's starting lineup. Alonzo Gee, a 6-6, 215-pound wing, is averaging 8.6 points per game.
Oklahoma counters with a starting lineup featuring three seniors and two juniors. The top players are inside senior giants, Taj Gray (6-9, 238, averaging 16.2 points and 7.9 rebounds) and Kevin Bookout (6-8, 270, averaging 13 points and 7.1 rebounds).
This will be only the second road game of the season for Bama. The Tide went to Philadelphia to play Temple and was beaten 68-58.
A sidelight of Saturday's game is a tribute to America's service personnel. The game is being televised by ESPN with tipoff at 3:30 p.m. CST. ESPN will also provide a live hookup to Camp Arifjin in Kuwait where Gottfried, Oklahoma Coach Kelvin Sampson, and ESPN announcer and former Duke player Jay Bilas were among the eight men who coached U.S. troops there in August as a part of Operation Hardwood: Hoops With the Troops. During warm-ups before the game, the coaches are expected to don their military issued fatigues and the players will wear camouflage shooting shirts with Operation Hardwood logos.
Gottfried said he is excited about the reunion with Sampson and Bilas "and paying tribute and honor to our troops."