Alabama at No. 11 Auburn
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Auburn Arena
Records: Alabama 13-10 (5-5 SEC), No. 11 Auburn 21-2 (8-2 SEC)
Radio: 95.3 FM
Any meeting between Alabama and Auburn in any sports carries ramifications in the small scale inside the state borders but UA basketball coach Nate Oats and his Crimson Tide players understand there are also broader implications in Wednesday night’s game against the No. 11 Tigers at Auburn.
“Hopefully we will be in a position to play in the NCAA Tournament when Herb (Jones) comes back (from injury),” Crimson Tide forward John Petty said on Tuesday. “Coach Oats talks about it all the time. He said these next two are super important. Even though all the games are important, … these next two can determine the future of the team."
In addition to Wednesday night’s game at Auburn, Alabama hosts No. 25 LSU on Saturday.
“We’re not in (the NCAA tournament) right now,” Oats said. “In order for us to get in, we’ve got to get some Quadrant One wins and we’ve got two right in front of us. So this is a big, big week.”
The Crimson Tide is currently 13-10 and is ranked No. 42 in the NCAA Net rankings, one metric that helps determine seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama defeated Auburn 83-64 in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 15, handing the Tigers their first loss of the season. Kira Lewis scored 25 points in that game and Alabama forced 21 AU turnovers.
“It’s a rivalry so it’s always loud, but knowing what we did here, the crowd is really going to be pumped,” Petty said.
Jones, who suffered a fractured wrist last month in Alabama’s loss at LSU, is progressing “better than anticipated” in his rehabilitation but will not be available for this week’s game, according to Oats.
“His left hand is still really sore,” Oats said. “Right now, we have him running so he doesn’t lose his conditioning and he’s doing some right-hand drills. Hopefully, he can be back (at practice) in a week or,so and there would be a very good possibility he could play against Texas A&M (on Feb. 19).
“In his mind, he would play tomorrow. He’s an Alabama kid. He knows what this rivalry means. But he’s not ready yet.”
Oats will leave Tuscaloosa on Friday morning to attend the funeral of his paternal grandfather, Bill Martin, who passed away last weekend. He expects to return in time for Friday’s practice in preparation for Saturday’s Alabama-LSU game.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter, @cecilhurt