History Is On Alabama's Side

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath is just 1-5 against Alabama, tonight's opponent at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama has won the last four games in the series, and is 12-4 against Arkansas in Coleman Coliseum.

If you're looking to this year's stats for comfort in reversing those trends, don't bother.

Both teams shoot 46.4 percent from the field, but Alabama (9-6, 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference) is third in the SEC in rebounding margin to Arkansas' ninth. The Razorbacks have a slim edge in field goal percentage defense, .403 to .415.

Alabama returns three starters and eight lettermen from last year's 24-8 team, but one of those starters, 6-foot-8 forward Chuck Davis, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Media covering the SEC picked Alabama in November to win the SEC West, with LSU second and Arkansas third.

The same voters might pick LSU now.

But Alabama, as if proving that Davis was not a one-man gang, has had seven players lead the team in scoring this season.

Jermareo Davidson, in the Tide's two wins since Davis' injury, has gone for 12 points and 13 rebounds against Auburn; 28 points and 8 rebounds against Kentucky.

"As a freshman, Jermareo really didn't know how to score," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. "He got better as a sophomore and he's better as a junior."

Arkansas (12-4, 1-2 SEC) will make stopping the 6-foot-10 Davidson a priority, along with containing 6-3 sophomore combo guard Ronald Steele.

The Razorbacks haven't won in Coleman Coliseum since 2001. Gottfried says crowds have been good there this season (8,918 on average), and students should be out in full force.

"I remember some of the things they said last year," said 7-foot Hogs sophomore Steven Hill, who will guard Davidson.

Heath's teams have lost 61-51, 81-65 and 72-73 in Coleman, in that order, but he said, "I believe we led there at halftime the last two years. We played well and that's important to me. There still was a talent disparity those years."

Heath believes there's more of a balance between the two teams now.

"I believe we have an advantage in some areas and they have an advantage in some areas," he said.

To hear Gottfried tell it, Alabama is holding together with baling wire.

"We only have eight scholarship players," he said. "I'm not naive enough to think we have a great team. We're average at best. We've got to continue to play hard and play together."

Besides its rebounding strength, Alabama ranks third in the SEC in blocked shots, just behind Arkansas.

"We have to hold our own inside," Heath said.

Alonza Gee, an 6-6 Alabama freshman, scored 17 points against Auburn, and 6-8 freshman Richard Hendrix has averaged 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Tide.

Arkansas counters with 6-10 Darian Townes and 6-8 Charles Thomas at forward.

"Hill, Townes and Thomas are all impressive," Gottfried said. "Not a lot of teams in the SEC have three guys that good with that kind of size. Every team in the league has talked about Arkansas as a team with a chance to be great."

Foul trouble led Gottfried to play four guards at one time against Kentucky, but he said, "We've got to play the hand we're dealt."

Steele, bothered by back trouble for two weeks early in the season, seems back at full strength.

"I should have held him out at Temple (in a 68-58 Tide loss on Dec. 10)," Gottfried said. "But he looks quicker now and more like the old Ron Steele. He's going to be awfully important to everything we do."

Fourth-year Arkansas guard Eric Ferguson called Steele a "smart player."

Gottfried said the Tide will play both man-to-man and zone defense, and press some.

Hogs guard Ronnie Brewer, looking to improve on a nine-point game against Vanderbilt, said, "If we're going to contend for the SEC West championship, we've got to win some games on the road. Being a more experienced team, we've got to take it to Alabama from the start."

Because Steele is more of a threat at shooting guard, Gottfried has moved 5-11 freshman Brandon Hollinger into the starting lineup as a point guard the last two games.

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