When the University of Alabama basketball team has struggled so far this season, the culprit has often been a team with an accomplished inside player.
On a Saturday, the Crimson Tide has to deal with two — and what is sure to be a hostile crowd.
The Crimson Tide will face Penn State, a team making an early move in the powerful Big Ten. The Nittany Lions (6-2) defeated No. 7 Maryland at home last Tuesday, posting a 76-62 win to raise their home record to 6-0.
Alabama at Penn State
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bryce Jordan Center, State College, Pa.
Records: Alabama 4-4, Penn State 8-2
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 95.3 FM
Penn State is led by 6-foot-8 senior Lamar Stevens, a power forward who averaged a team-leading 16.6 points per game, ranking second in rebounds (7.6) and steals (1.5) Alabama held Stevens in check in last season’s 73-64 win over Penn State in Tuscaloosa, limiting him to 12 points. He is coming off a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in the win over Maryland.
“They are going to come in with a ton of confidence after the win over Penn State, but it’s good for our guys to get tested,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “There will be some physicality in the game.
“Stevens is really good, really able to score around the basket and mid-range,” Oats said. “Then he steps out against Maryland and makes two 3’s. So you’ve got to have someone strong to guard him and still protect the rim because they’ve got another guy (6-10, 260-pound senior Mike Watkins) who can catch the lob on the back end and block shots on defense.”
The week-long layoff after the win over Stephen F. Austin has given some of Alabama’s ailing players an opportunity to heal their bumps and bruises.
Oats said that forward Herb Jones, who suffered a hyperextended elbow prior to the team’s Thanksgiving trip to The Bahamas, has “looked tremendous” during this week of practice. Guard Beetle Bolden, who scored did not play against Stephen F. Austin due to wrist and hand injuries, has been practicing on a limited basis and is expected to play against the Nittany Lions.
Forward Alex Reese (foot) did not practice this week and is a game-time decision. Center Galin Smith “rolled an ankle (on Thursday, but should be OK,” according to Oats.
“If we can get through the next two weeks without any new injuries and guys healed up over Christmas break, it will be nice to have everybody that’s going to play in the games (be able to) practice. It’s hard to get better, it’s hard to get your chemistry when three out of the nine players you have aren’t able to practice.”
Sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. continues to lead Alabama in scoring at 18.6 points per game, although Oats said he is looking for ways to reduce the load on Lewis, who has played over 94 percent of the available minutes for Alabama this season, making him one of the Top 10 players nationally in floor time.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt