TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Crimson Tide look to burst any talk of falling off the tournament bubble on Wednesday when they host in-state rival Auburn. Alabama, which is ranked No. 25 nationally in RPI, could solidify its postseason standing with a win, as well as ensure a regular season sweep of the Tigers.
“It’s the biggest game on our schedule because it’s the next game,” Anthony Grant said. “Obviously, it adds to it because it’s a rivalry game. I think our guys are excited to play Auburn. After that, everything is out of our control.
“Everyone wants to play in the postseason but we’re going to focus on today.”
For Alabama to win, and improve its postseason resume, a few things must happen:
All hands on deck
While Saturday’s win proved that a healthy Trevor Lacey isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all for the Tide, having him available would go a long way toward victory. Grant said at Tuesday’s news conference that Lacey was limited Monday and would be re-evaluated closer to game time. Lacey injured his ankle at Arkansas on Thursday and played only 11 minutes against Mississippi State.
Lacey’s return would help negate Auburn’s guard play, specifically limiting Frankie Sullivan who scored 21 points in their first meeting. Lacey has been a boon to the Alabama offense without Tony Mitchell and is one of the leading scoring threats. Without him available, the onus is likely to fall on fellow freshman Rodney Cooper.
Junior guard Andrew Steele said playing Auburn is just “one of those things. If you’re born in this state, you can’t be in the middle. You have to pick a side. I like to think I picked the right side.”
Steele’s brother played for Alabama and his mother graduated from the university. He said that while things go one game at a time, playing against Auburn is an added incentive.
“There’s state bragging rights on the line,” Steele said. “It’s Alabama-Auburn. I think that enough is all you really have to say. These are the games you don’t have to get pumped up for. All the hype that surrounds it brings it enough.”
While Grant wouldn’t cop to looking ahead, Steele wasn’t as hesitant. With just two regular season games remaining and a tournament spot up for grabs, Steele said he’s caught himself looking at the scoreboard, checking how other teams are finishing.
“Naturally it creeps in a little bit but you try not to think about it,” Steele said. “You try and take the same approach we’ve been taking, one game at a time.
“You pay attention to the ones they put on TV. You watch the other teams in your conference but some of the other teams like the Dukes and the North Carolinas, you like to watch their programs because of the tradition they bring. I think it adds to the excitement because you try to figure out who you may play in advance before you get there.”