Alabama has had rough sledding over the past month or so, and one reason for that is that the Tide has been without senior leader Andrew Steele. Steele suffered a sports hernia early in the season, underwent surgery, and finally returned to the lineup against Oakland last week. He missed seven games.
Steele will be with the Tide when Alabama opens the home portion of its Southeastern Conference schedule at noon Saturday, hosting Tennessee in Coleman Coliseum. ESPN2 will televise the game.
Alabama opened SEC play Tuesday, losing at 10th-ranked Missouri, 84-68. Bama is 8-6 on the season. The Volunteers also lost their SEC opener, falling 92-74 to Ole Miss in Knoxville.
Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said that it is good to have Steele back on his team, which now has nine scholarshipped players available for duty. He praised Steele’s leadership ability and his 100 per cent effort.
Junior point guard Trevor Releford, the next most senior player on the team, said, “It’s good to have Andrew on the floor. It’s like having an extra coach out there. He knows the game.”
In the loss to Missouri, Releford led three scorers in double figures with 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor. In doing so, the Kansas City, Mo., native became the 46th player to record 1,000 points in his career (1,004). Sophomore guard Rodney Cooper added 11 points, while freshman forward Devonta Pollard chipped in with 10.
Grant said, “We are excited to have an opportunity to open up SEC play here tomorrow against Tennessee. I’m very impressed watching their team. Obviously, we’re in our second game coming off a tough loss on the road against Missouri. I think we’ll need to play with a sense of urgency and do a great job on the defensive end and be able to attack their defensive presence. I’ve been really impressed watching them on film in terms of what they do on the defensive end as well. We are looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
Releford continues to anchor an Alabama backcourt, which features the top four scorers on this year’s team. A preseason All-SEC honoree, Releford tops the team in points (16.4 ppg) and steals (1.8 spg). He is also one of the top three-point shooters (42.6 percent) and free throw shooters (84.2percent) in the Southeastern Conference.
Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game and leads the squad with 3.3 assists a game. The Huntsville, Ala., native ranks among the league leaders in three-point field goal percentage (41.9) and three pointers made per game (1.8).
Meanwhile, Cooper contributes 12.2 ppg and leads the team in rebounds per game (4.7) and total field goals attempted (143).
Junior guard Jordan McRae leads a trio of UT players who average double digits a game, collecting 12.7 points per contest. He is also the Vols top three-point shooter, averaging 33.9 percent from beyond the arc (20-of-59).
Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes averages 11.6 points per game, and leads the team in rebounding (7.8 rpg), blocked shots (12) and field goal percentage (.539). Junior guard Trae Golden adds 11.4 ppg and tops the squad in assists (4.3 apg).
As a team, Tennessee comes in as one of the better defensive squads in the league. The Vols enter Saturday’s match-up ranked second in the league in three-point field goal percentage defense (27.5), fifth in rebounding defense (33.2 defensive rebounds per game) and sixth in scoring defense (61.3).
Saturday’s game will mark the 140th meeting on the hardwood between the two schools, which ranks as the fifth-most common opponent in UA program history. The Tide owns a 74-65 edge in the series, which includes a 42-17 record in games played in Tuscaloosa and a 25-8 mark when playing UT in Coleman Coliseum. Alabama comes into the contest riding a two-game winning streak in the series following a 62-50 win last season in Tuscaloosa.