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*** Basketball to celebrate 100-year anniversary Saturday

  • Chris Walsh

    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Alabama men's basketball team will play its final regular season contest when it welcomes the Georgia Bulldogs to Coleman Coliseum on Saturday. The match-up is set to tipoff at 3 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network.

    “The game against Georgia is a huge game for us,” UA head coach Anthony Grant said. “It’s our last home game. We get an opportunity to close out our SEC season at home undefeated with a very talented Georgia team coming in. They’re playing great basketball right now. They had a huge win last night against Kentucky. In my opinion, they’ve got a guy that’s probably a candidate for SEC Player of the Year in the league in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I think he’s had an outstanding year and has really led their team. It will be a great challenge. We had a great game against them in Athens. The last time we played it came down to the wire, which most of the games in our league have, so we expect a very highly contested game. Both teams are going to be fighting a good battle. It should be a lot of fun to watch.”

    The contest will be the final home game for senior guard Andrew Steele and junior guard Keon Blackledge. Steele is finishing his fifth year at the Capstone, while Blackledge is a junior in terms of athletic status, but will graduate this summer. Both players will be honored prior to tipoff.

    In addition, the game will mark the culmination of the 100th year of Alabama basketball, Over 100 former players, coaches and staff members will be on hand for a special halftime ceremony, which is presented by Alabama Power and Legacy Credit Union. All fans in attendance will also receive a one-of-a-kind poster commemorating the 100th year of Alabama hoops.

    “Obviously, there are a lot of things going on around the game that certainly are pretty big deals as well,” Grant said. “It’s the 100 year anniversary celebration of Alabama basketball. We’re going to have over one hundred former players, coaches, trainers, support personnel here to celebrate that day. I am looking forward to having a chance to meet some of the former players, some of the guys that obviously laid the foundation here and set the tradition for Alabama basketball that myself and our players are privileged to carry on. And obviously tomorrow is Senior Day, and we have a chance to honor our lone scholarship senior in Andrew Steele. Keon Blackledge, one of our walk-ons, will also be honored as a senior. So it will be a special and exciting day for us.”

    Along with the festivities surrounding the game, Saturday’s match-up will have a lot on the line. The Crimson Tide is currently in a four-way tie for second overall in the Southeastern Conference, along with Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi. UA will be playing for a top four seed, which earns a double bye into the SEC quarterfinals on Friday. However, the Tide could earn as low as a No. 6 seed in the upcoming tournament, which will be held in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on March 13-17.

    Releford comes into the Georgia game as the team’s top scorer (15.5 ppg) and three-point shooter (.426). An SEC player of the year candidate, he currently ranks fourth in steals average (2.1 spg), fifth in field goal percentage (.490), free throw percentage (.822) and minutes per game (33.1) and sixth in the SEC in scoring average (15.5 ppg). The Kansas City, Mo., native is the only player in the league to rank among the top six in each of these categories.

    Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Lacey tops the team in threes made (55) and attempted (143) and assists (3.2 apg), ranks second in three-point shooting (.385) and steals (1.5 spg) and is third in rebounding (4.0 rpg).

    Combined, the duo of Releford and Lacey contribute 27.6 points per game, or approximately 43 percent of the team's 63.8 points per game.

    Sophomore guard Rodney Cooper also averages double figures with 10.9 ppg and has reached double digits in eight of his last 10 contests. He leads the team in rebounding (4.8 rpg), offensive rebounding (2.1 orpg) and field goals attempted (297).

    Georgia (15-15, 9-8) having won two straight home contests over Tennessee (78-68 on March 2) and most recently Kentucky (72-62 on Thursday night). Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs with 24 points and 10 rebounds in the winning effort.

    Caldwell-Pope, who is vying alongside Releford for SEC Player of the Year honors, tops the Bulldogs in scoring (18.2 ppg), rebounding (7.0 ppg), steals (2.1 spg), field goals made (172) and attempted (395), threes made (76) and attempted (203) and free throw percentage (.812) coming into Saturday’s contest. He also ranks among the league leaders in scoring (2nd), steals (T-2nd), threes made per game (2nd, 2.5), three-point percentage (3rd) and minutes per game (2nd, 33.8).

    The next highest scorer on the Bulldogs’ roster is sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic (7.9 ppg), while freshman guard Charles Mann leads the team in assists (2.8 apg), while adding 6.6 points a game.

    Saturday’s game will be the 140th meeting on the hardwood between the two schools, which will be the sixth-most games UA has played against any one opponent. The Crimson Tide owns a 92-47 lead in the series. It will also be the second meeting of the season between Georgia and Alabama. In the first game back on Feb. 12 in Athens, Ga., the Crimson Tide held on for a 52-45 victory over the Bulldogs.

    Alabama Head Coach Anthony Grant

    On how important getting in the top four seed and getting a bye is for the team:

    “I think there are certainly a lot of things you look at. First and foremost, we’re all competitors. We want to win. That’s the biggest thing. And then obviously, having a chance to go undefeated at home in SEC play would be huge. You just don’t know from there what you can control, in terms of how it lays out. I think the only thing that we can worry about is ourselves. Some other things could happen. We could finish anywhere from the No. 2 seed to sixth seed, so we’ll worry about that when it comes. Our focus right now is just on Georgia and their team and making sure that we’re prepared. Outside of that, that’s pretty much it.”

    Senior guard Andrew Steele

    On what his best memories are going to be:

    “Hopefully I will be remembered as somebody who left it all out there when I tried to play and I impacted and a lot of winning and I tried my best to be a leader for my teammates and I tried to represent the University well, but I can’t really control how that will be determined. But I know that I did everything within my control to try to make sure I represented myself and represent the University well. These last five years have been probably five of the best years of my life, and the last four I couldn’t have asked for a better coach to play for and I think it has just made me a better person because of it.”

    On his family and its affiliation with the University of Alabama:

    “My mom graduated from here so ever since I can remember I have always been an Alabama fan. When my brother (Ronald Steele) came here, we were fans before that but watching him play here and some of the success that he had, it was exciting just as a fan alone but him being in my family it made it all the more exciting. I saw how much he enjoyed it here and that really helped my decision to come here because I know if he could enjoy it that much then I knew I would probably feel the same way. It is something I have been really passionate about. I love this University. Not just basketball and all the sports. I get really excited any time I see Alabama doing something good and you look at a lot of success of all the other sports. As me being a graduate and being able to represent the University it’s really exciting and it is something that I will always cherish with me for the rest of my life.”

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    Christopher Walsh covers Alabama football for BamaOnline, 247Sports, and is the author of 18 books.

  • Chris Walsh

    (Note: This is your game preview for the game. I'm about to post something else basketball-related)

    signature image signature image

    Christopher Walsh covers Alabama football for BamaOnline, 247Sports, and is the author of 18 books.