GAME NOTES: The Alabama Crimson Tide will try to continue inching toward the top of the SEC standings, as they pay a visit to the LSU Tigers on Saturday afternoon.
Alabama has won four straight games, including a 64-56 decision over Mississippi State on Wednesday night to improve to 18-8 overall, and it sits all alone in second place in the SEC with a 10-3 mark. Following a loss by first-place Florida earlier this week, the Tide is just a game back of the Gators, whom they will face on March 2.
LSU (15-9) had been one of the SEC's hottest teams heading into its latest game, as it won five of six, but an 82-72 loss at Tennessee on Tuesday dropped it a game below .500 in conference action (6-7). The good news for the Tigers is that they return home for this matchup, where they have gone 12-2 this season.
Alabama has won six of the last seven meetings against LSU, including a 60-57 verdict in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 9, to extend its lead in the all-time series to 102-67.
The Crimson Tide were anything but impressive on Wednesday night, as they shot less than 40 percent from the field (including 3-of-15 from 3-point range), but they were saved by a 21-of-27 showing from the foul line and by an outstanding defensive effort which forced 23 turnovers. Rodney Cooper was tremendous in the win, shooting 7-of-10 from the field for 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds and three steals. Trevor Releford stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals, while Trevor Lacey netted 11 points. Alabama's offense hasn't been much to brag about this season, ranking in the bottom-third of the league in scoring with just 62.4 ppg, but its success has come as a result of having the SEC's second-ranked defense, which yields a mere 57.3 ppg. Releford paces the squad with 14.5 ppg with stellar percentages from the field (.466) and the foul line (.818), and he is also a solid perimeter defender with 51 steals. Lacey (11.9 ppg) and Cooper (11.1 ppg) are also members of the double-digit scorers' club.
The Tigers had a solid day shooting the ball in their latest game, making 45.6 percent of their field goal attempts and nearly 78 percent of their free throws, but they had no answer at the other end of the court for the red-hot Vols, who shot greater than 57 percent. Johnny O'Bryant III continued his hot streak in the loss with 24 points and eight rebounds, and he's put up 20-plus points in three of his last four games after accomplishing the feat just once in the previous 18. Anthony Hickey scored 14 points, but on only 5-of-15 from the field, and Malik Morgan added 12 points. On the season, LSU has been steady in most aspects of the game, sporting positive margins in scoring (+3.4), rebounding (+1.3) and turnovers (+0.5), although its percentages from the field (.429) and the free-throw line (.632) rank among the league's worst. O'Bryant's recent surge has upped his averages to 13.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg, firmly establishing him as one of the SEC's top forwards. Hickey (11.8 ppg) leads the nation in steals per game (3.2), while Shavon Coleman (10.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Andre Stringer (10.6 ppg) and Charles Carmouche (9.0 ppg, 3.5 apg) round out a strong core of players.
LSU is surely going to challenge the Alabama, especially on its home floor, but the Tide applies the kind of defensive pressure to stifle the Tigers' balanced attack.