With a trio of convincing double-digit victories to open SEC play, No. 4 Alabama soars into a matchup against No. 15 Arkansas on Wednesday at Fayetteville, Ark.
Inching back up in the rankings after they were No. 4 a mere four weeks ago, the Crimson Tide (13-2, 3-0 SEC) regained their top-four status after a convincing 78-52 victory at home over Kentucky on Saturday.
Freshman Brandon Miller scored 19 points with seven rebounds, Mark Sears had 16 points with six rebounds, six steals and four assists, while Jahvon Quinerly had 12 points. In shooting 48.1 percent from the field, and 51.6 percent in the second half, Alabama handed Kentucky its largest true road loss since February 2013.
“I can’t say enough about our guys and how hard they played on defense and how locked in to the scouting report they were,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “I thought Sears was unbelievable. He got in there and made a bunch of tough plays and rebounds. I thought Charles (Bediako) was great on (Kentucky’s Oscar) Tshiebwe.”
Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year, was held to four points on 1-of-7 shooting.
“I thought we showed growth,” Oats said. “We were up 27 against Ole Miss (last Tuesday) and let them cut it to 15. … I sat in the huddle and asked, ‘What are we going to do from here?’ And we pushed the lead to 21 instead of letting them back in it.”
Alabama is on a four-game winning streak since a 100-90 loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 17. The Crimson Tide’s only other loss was to former No. 2 UConn, 82-67 on Nov. 25.
Miller leads Alabama with 19.1 points per game and 8.5 rebounds, while Sears scores 14.7 points.
The start of SEC play has not been as kind to Arkansas (12-3, 1-2). The Razorbacks were ranked No. 9 when they opened conference play with a 60-57 loss at LSU on Dec. 28.
Arkansas dropped to No. 13 last week and split two games, getting a home win 74-68 over No. 20 Missouri on Wednesday and losing 72-59 at No. 22 Auburn on Saturday. Anthony Black scored 23 for the Razorbacks on Saturday, while Ricky Council IV had 14. Council leads four double-digit scorers with 18.1 points per game.
Arkansas is expected to lean into its defense, which is 15th in the nation with 9.8 steals per game but had just four against Auburn. The Razorbacks outrebounded the Tigers on Saturday 45-32, with Jordan Walsh grabbing a career-high 10 boards.
“The defensive game plan has not changed, other than the execution by some of our guys,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “We had four steals (against Auburn) and two of them were by our power forward/center Kamani Johnson. You can’t play 35, 36 minutes, and not have a steal in our system. And we’re struggling shooting.”
Alabama has won two of the last three games in the matchup, but Arkansas has won seven of nine going back to January 2015.
–Field Level Media