Alabama Opens SEC Player Tuesday Night At No. 10 Missouri

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM Senior guard Andrew Steele made his return to the lineup last Saturday vs. Oakland.
Senior guard Andrew Steele made his return to the lineup last Saturday vs. Oakland.

Jan. 7, 2013


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The University of Alabama men's basketball team will open Southeastern Conference play on Tuesday night when it travels to Columbia, Mo., to take on the No. 10/12 Missouri Tigers. The contest, which will be televised on ESPN, is slated for a 6 p.m. tipoff.

Tuesday's contest will mark the fourth consecutive year the Crimson Tide has opened conference play on the road. It will also be the inaugural SEC game for Missouri, who officially joined the league prior to the start of the 2012-13 season.

 "We have finished our non-conference schedule and we are excited about starting conference play," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "I am really impressed watching Missouri on film and what they've been able to accomplish and the way they've played. I think they are one of the better teams in the country and their record and ranking show that. I know that our guys are excited about the opportunity to go and compete and are ready for the challenge."

The Crimson Tide (8-5) comes into Tuesday's contest following a 65-45 victory over Oakland this past Saturday in the final non-conference game on this year's schedule. Junior guard Trevor Releford had a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor, while Levi Randolph added 15 and Rodney Cooper had 11.

But the best news of the night was the return of fifth-year senior Andrew Steele to the lineup. Steele, who missed the previous seven contests recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia, played 17 minutes in the victory.

"It's good to get Andrew Steele back," Grant said. "His presence alone, with him being our only senior and a fifth year guy, I felt like that was needed. Andrew has certainly had his challenges from a health standpoint, but his work ethic and the amount he has put in and desire he had to get back is a testimony to his character. He started practice last week and jumped right in full speed. He is still limited in terms of how much we are going to let him do at this stage, but his presence at practice increased what we were able to do as a team. It was great to have him out there on the court. He affected the game in a variety of ways that don't always show up in a stat sheet. Our medical staff and everyone involved did a great job."

Steele rejoined what is already a stellar Alabama backcourt, led by Releford. A preseason All-SEC honoree, Releford tops the team in points (15.6 ppg) and steals (2.0 spg). He is also one of the top three-point shooters (42.5 percent) and free throw shooters (83.9 percent) in the Southeastern Conference.

Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game and leads the squad with 3.6 assists a game. The Huntsville, Ala., native ranks among the league leaders in three-point field goal percentage (42.4) and three pointers made per game (1.9).

Meanwhile, Cooper contributes 12.3 ppg and leads the team in rebounds per game (4.5) and total field goals attempted (131).

Missouri comes into Tuesday's SEC opener sporting an 11-2 overall mark, most recently defeating Bucknell, 66-64, at home this past Saturday in its final non-conference contest.

Senior forward Laurence Bowers tops the team with 16.8 points to go along with 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game. The SEC Player of the Year candidate has reached double figures in eight straight contests coming into SEC play and in 20 of his last 22 games overall dating back to 2010-11 (redshirted 2011-12 season).

Junior guard Phil Pressey, who was the named the SEC Player of the Week this week after scoring a career-best 26 points in the win over Bucknell, comes into league play with an average of 13.8 points a contest. He ranks ninth in the country with 7.2 assists per game, including an average of 11.7 helpers over his last three contests.

Sophomore guard Jabari Brown (11.8 ppg) and senior forward Alex Oriakhi (10.2 ppg) each contribute double digits. Oriakhi also leads the team in rebounds (8.8 rpg) and blocked shots (1.3).

It will be the sixth time in series history the two teams will meet on the hardwood, with the Crimson Tide holding a 4-1 edge in the five previous games played between Alabama and Missouri, including a 1-0 mark in games played in Columbia, Mo. The two teams last met more than 10 years ago, when Missouri claimed a 75-68 victory on Nov. 20, 2001 in Kansas City, Mo.

Fans can also listen to the action on the Crimson Tide Sports Network, with Chris Stewart and Bryan Passink on the call, or follow in-game tweets on the team's official Twitter page @AlabamaMBB.


On his concern of the size difference in the post against Missouri:

"It's a huge concern. Just looking at their rebounding numbers, they are one of the top rebounding teams in the country. I think they are among the top two or three teams in the country in offensive rebounding. And just from a physicality standpoint on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. I have been really impressed watching them on film and the size difference will certainly be a challenge for our team."

On importance of getting a win prior to start of league play:

"It was good. It was a confidence booster for our team. They have worked extremely hard through the tough stretch that we've been on. I never saw a change in their work ethic, attitude or approach in what we are doing. The thing my staff and I continue to talk about is that we just need to get better as a team. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's a long season. We need to take the approach that every single day we have to get better every day in practice, we need to understand what it is that allows to have success and we need experience. Six of the nine scholarship guys we have are freshmen or sophomores, so they need to get experience for a variety of reasons. It's a day to day thing and it's great to be able to learn and win, and now we just have to take that into SEC play."

On how the loss of Carl Engstrom affected the team:

"In a short period of time we lost Andrew Steele with what ended up being a sports hernia and a game later we lose our starting center in Carl Engstrom. It really changed the complexion of our team. What those guys brought more than scoring and rebounding was their consistency. Our team is lacking veterans and that leadership you need on the court. That left us with eight scholarship players, six of which were freshmen and sophomores. We had to make some adjustments and the month of December was tough. I do feel like we were able to learn a lot and get better as a basketball team. Even through some of the tough losses we suffered late last month, I still felt like we got better as a team and guys are beginning to understand what's required of them."

On if the team will be able to watch the football team's national championship game Monday night:

"We are flying out this evening and are due to arrive in Columbia sometime tonight. The game will have already started, but as soon as we get everything done that we will need to get done, I am sure everybody will be glued to the TV and cheering the Crimson Tide on to victory tonight."