Mark Gottfried and the Alabama basketball team could not have had a better week, but everyone realizes that Kentucky is a shell of its usual self, even though the miraculous return of Randolph Morris to the college game from NBA draft purgatory made the Wildcats more competitive, and Alabama beating Auburn has been status quo in the last six meeting between the teams.
"We're not naïve enough to sit here and think we're a great team. We're average at best, but we're playing hard and playing together," Gottfried said.
"When you start watching tape on Arkansas, you come back to reality real fast after our last two games," Gottfried said. "They are very intimidating, watching them on tape. They are very good, very athletic, and we know we've got some real challenges with them… These games this week are a little tougher than the games last week."
The Hogs have a seven-foot sophomore, Steven Hill, who will be assigned to guard the resurgent Jermareo Davidson, and Arkansas is led in scoring by junior Ronnie Brewer, who average a league-second best 17.9 points per game.
Davidson scored 28 against Kentucky last Saturday to up his average to 14 points per game and establish himself around the league as a legitimate offensive replacement for Chuck Davis, who was Bama's leading scorer before his season-ending injury. Davidson is the reigning SEC player of the week after the 28-point, eight rebound performance in Lexington and 12-point, 13-rebound night in Bama's win at Auburn.
In Davis' wake, things have changed around the Alabama program, perhaps bringing a sharper focus to the squad.
"In practice we're obviously limited with numbers. We were limited with Chuck. We've had to shorten practices," Gottfried said. "We try to keep the game simple for our players and make sure play hard as can. We talk about each day walking through door and does absolutely best for that day. Last week we had a good week and hopefully we can keep that same kind of approach for the rest of the year."
Gottfried also has turned to freshman Brandon Hollinger in SEC play, to assists and at times take over the point guard position for Ron Steele, who generally plays 40 minutes per game. Hollinger, a 5-11 Mobile native, has played a total of 109 minutes in the past three games, starting the last two and averaging just under nine points in SEC play. For comparison, Hollinger totaled 92 minutes in his previous 11 games for Alabama and scored a total of 13 points in SEC play.
"Brandon Hollinger has helped in a lot of ways. He's taking the pressure off in ball handling," Gottfried said. "Ronald Steele was your best passer, your best penetrator and your best shooter. Well, he couldn't pass it to himself, so we felt if we could get Brandon in there he could give us another option. He's been a perimeter player that's helped in every area."
Gottfried said he wasn't concerned about the actual time split with Steele at the point and Hollinger at the point. "You become a harder team to guard because you are basically playing with two point guards. We have played against teams like that in the past and it can give you match up problems," he said.
Gottfried said the nearest Alabama comparison he could make to the current backcourt is playing Antoine Pettway and Mo Williams in the same backcourt. "For right now it's something that has helped us, and it could change in a game our two, too. It could change from time to time and from team to team."