Three weeks ago, there were several major upsets around the country. Arkansas beat a then-No. 2 Florida 80-69 at home on Feb. 5 and TCU beat a then-No. 5 Kansas 62-55 at home on Feb. 6. Additionally, although neither team was nationally ranked, Auburn embarrassed Alabama 49-37 at home on Feb. 6.
But in the aforementioned rematches, the better team prevailed, proving one of two things: The first game was a fluke or that upsets are just the nature of the college basketball beast.
This past Saturday, Feb. 23, the Gators hosted the Razorbacks and beat them handily, 71-54, while the Jayhawks annihilated the Horned Frogs at Allen Fieldhouse, 74-48.
Is it Alabama’s turn to turn the tables? The Crimson Tide (18-9, 10-4 SEC) hosts the Tigers (9-18, 3-11) tonight at 6 p.m. CT at Coleman Coliseum. The game will be broadcasted on ESPNU.
Senior guard Andrew Steele said that national trends like one team losing then winning the second time around doesn’t have an affect on his team.
“You notice it, but each situation is different,” he said. “It’s the nature of college basketball that any given team can get beat on any given night and we’re a prime example of that. We’ve seen it firsthand, we’ve seen it around the league and around the country, but anytime you play against a heated rival, especially someone like Auburn, you get hyped up to play those guys.”
In the first game between Alabama and Auburn, the Tide took a 23-13 lead at halftime, but was outscored 36-14 in the second half.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant summed up that defeat in one sentence at his news conference Monday.
“We felt like we got outplayed in a lot of ways and a lot of it was in the effort department,” he said.
Over the weekend, Alabama suffered a 97-94 loss in triple overtime at LSU. The game was indicative of the rollercoaster the Tide has been on this season. There have been times when the team has been up (think wins over Villanova, Kentucky, Arkansas, Vanderbilt) and when they’ve been down (think losses to Dayton, Mercer, Tulane, Auburn).
But Grant instills a forward focus mindset and doesn’t allow his guys to dwindle on the past.
“I think most seasons you have ups and downs,” Grant said. “Right now, we’re tied for second place [in the conference] with Kentucky. Our focus is making sure that we do what we need to do to secure a top four seed as we head into the SEC Tournament. That, we can control. We can’t change what’s happened in the past, we can’t predict the future, but we can control right now.”
Steele agreed and echoed his coach.
“We’re not going to be perfect,” he said. “I mean, I can’t think of the last team to go undefeated in college basketball. We’re obviously going to have ups and downs. Coach has done a good job of making sure we focus on what’s ahead of us and staying locked into the present moment.”
Steele said that the team isn’t experiencing any physical setback following Saturday’s triple overtime on the road and will be ready to play Auburn.
“We think we do enough with conditioning and everything that will prepare us for whatever we have to face,” he said. “We’ve had a couple days to recover so we’re ready to go.”
Though Alabama takes it one game at a time, a date with No. 8 Florida awaits Saturday. The Gators travel to Tennessee tonight to face a Vols team that’s one five straight.
Steele (ankle) is expected to play tonight. But Monday, he labeled himself “day-to-day.”
“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have pain,” Steele said. “When I get in the game, I focus on so much else that I put it in the back of my mind and just do whatever I can to help us win.”
Grant said he didn’t know if sophomore forward Nick Jacobs (back) would play and that he’d see how he felt at Monday’s practice.
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