One of the most astounding revelations from the Alabama locker room after Auburn had humiliated the Tide, 83-51, on January 23 was that some Bama players thought Alabama had not been "up" for the game. Even considering the rationale based on Auburn historically and recently being a relative lightweight in Southeastern Conference basketball, it was difficult to imagine any Alabama athlete not being ready to play against the Tigers.
Alabama senior Jermareo Davidson expects Alabama to be a different team when the Tide and Tigers play at 4 p.m. Saturday at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama is coming off a 69-66 overtime loss at Tennessee and clinging to its ranking of 25th in the nation. Bama has fallen to 19-8 overall and only 6-7 in SEC Western Division play, in third place a game behind Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Auburn is 15-13 overall, but just a game behind the Tide in the SEC at 5-8.
Davidson said Friday, "I think we are a little bit of a different team now. We've been winning and we've learned from some of our mistakes. We're still trying to lessen our turnovers, but I think now we are playing more as a team than maybe we were at that point in the season when we first played them."
Unfortunately, one way in which Alabama may be different is that the Tide might not have point guard Ron Steele. Steele, who has played injured all year, took himself out of the game in Knoxville because of knee problems. Although the junior pre-season All-America has had his moments, including a couple of game-winning shots, he has not been near the player of his first two season.
Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said, "We played most of the (Tennessee) game without Ronald Steele because of his injury, and our young freshman players came in on the road in a tough environment and just played their hearts out. I'm really proud of those guys. That's going to help us as we go down the stretch here. They've got a little more confidence now, those young players. We obviously need Ron Steele to be healthy, but we might have discovered some things there.
"I thought Ron was struggling. They were pressuring him and picking him up full court and his knees were really hurting him and I think he fell one time. I thought that he wasn't very effective and Mikhail Torrance, especially (of the freshmen) came in—he hasn't played a lot this year—and just did a terrific job."
Although Steele is listed as a likely starter, there are a couple of alignments Bama might try if he can't play. Brandon Hollinger has been playing alongside Steele and could be at point with Mykal Riley on a wing.
Gottfried said, "Anytime Alabama and Auburn play, it's always big. They've beaten us once already this year. I think our guys are playing a little bit better right now. We lost a tough one at Tennessee but I think anytime these two teams play, everybody obviously will be ready to play."
The Tide coach said, "We treat each game the same. Every game is highly important in this league. I think any time you lose you can't wait to get back on the court because you want to change that around. We have a lot of respect for Auburn. I think they're very, very good, but I think there are great teams all over this league, so that's how we're going to look at it.
"We have to play well. We've got to get some of our veteran guys to play a little bit better, play well in every phase of the game. At this point of the season you know everybody pretty well. You know what each other is trying to do and you try and take some things away they want to do. They're going to do the same with us—and see who wins."
Alabama has dominated the series, 85 wins to 51. Auburn hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 1999, seven straight. But the Tigers' win over Bama in Auburn snapped a seven-game Alabama winning streak.
Saturday's game is sold out. Fox SportsNet will televise the game.