TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Coleman Coliseum has the potential to turn into a powder keg of emotion Tuesday when the University of Alabama hosts No. 12 Florida. In this SEC tilt, there are enough storylines to fill a novel.
There’s the close tie between coach and mentor. Anthony Grant said his relationship with Florida coach Billy Donovan goes “beyond basketball.” Grant hasn’t beaten his former boss in three tries. There’s a top-15 team looking to rebound from back-to-back losses. There’s a tournament spot on the line for one team and the ever-important seeding on the line for the other. The Tide is holding on for dear life on the bubble while the Gators look to climb the latter to a top-3 seed.
Oh, and there’s that matter of the four suspensions. Alabama learned Monday that guards Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele would likely return in time for the game after being suspended Saturday, but that still leaves the team’s top two scorers and rebounders -- JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell -- in street clothes.
Green and Mitchell may not even be in the building when the lights dim and the starting lineup is called. And don’t expect Grant to be looking around for them. If Saturday’s loss at LSU proved anything to the third-year coach, it was that his team could come together quickly in the face of adversity. In fact, the team did not learn of the suspensions of Releford, Steele and Green until just before the shoot-around on Saturday.
“It happened quickly,” Grant said. “They found out the morning of the LSU game right before we left for shoot-around. Obviously, the game plan changed a little bit. Guys had opportunities to step in.”
Alabama didn’t play well in the first half, scoring a paltry 15 points in the opening 20 minutes. But in the final period, the Tide found new life, hustling after loose balls and playing as a team.
“These young men are resilient,” Grant said. “They were able to handle different situations. We’ve got to move forward.
“We’ve got an opportunity here tomorrow with one of the top-10 teams in the country coming in our building. I think our guys are excited about the opportunity to get back on the court and play.”
Grant singled out the play of Rodney Cooper from Saturday’s game as a bright spot for a team in need of one. Cooper, who started nine games early in the season, hadn’t found his name in the starting five in several weeks. But Grant said his freshman guard continued to work hard during practice and remained committed to the team. Against LSU, he finished with career high 28 points -- 23 better than his season average.
“You’ve got to give credit to Cooper for stepping up,” Grant said. “He was a guy that for the first nine games of the season was in our starting lineup and then hit a rough patch like most freshmen do during the course of the year.
“The thing that I was most impressed with Cooper was during the middle of the year, when he wasn’t playing a whole lot, being able to stick to it and continue to his practice habits and preparations because you never know when an opportunity is going to present itself.”
For Alabama to hold down the up-tempo play of Florida, Cooper and company will have to knock down shots and play good defense, Grant said.
“They’ve got, from an offensive standpoint, maybe the most explosive team in the league with what they can put on the floor,” Grant said. “It’s going to take a great effort from us on the defensive end and we have to take care of the basketball and find quality shots on the other end.”
That effort will come down to a short-handed, inexperienced roster. Playing in front of the home crowd on national television, the green under the players’ collars may show. But Grant isn't focused on that.
Against LSU, he said, “we had energy, we had effort, we had togetherness.” Against Florida, they’ll need it -- and more.