The Alabama men’s basketball team could have stayed home this weekend, enjoyed the rare December snow and then feasted on an easily beatable non-conference opponent.

Instead, Avery Johnson chose the hard road.

The Crimson Tide will face Arizona, a preseason top-five team, on the Wildcats’ home floor at the McKale Center on Saturday. Arizona has won 46 consecutive non-conference games on its home floor.

“We could have scheduled a team this weekend that didn’t have a very good RPI and played them at home,” Johnson said. “But looking at what we will be facing in the SEC, I didn’t think that would be the best way to prepare our team. So with Greg Byrne (the Alabama athletics director, who formerly held the same post at Arizona), we were able to schedule this game against a quality opponent in a true road atmosphere. We recognize that it’s a challenge, but we did it for a reason.”

Alabama vs. Arizona
When: 9 p.m. CT, Saturday, Dec. 9
Where: McKale Center, Tucson., Ariz.
Records: Alabama 7-2, Arizona 6-3
Radio: 95.3 FM (Tuscaloosa)

Arizona brings a 6-3 record into the game after an uncharacteristic lost road trip to the Bahamas over Thanksgiving in which the Wildcats lost all three games. Since then, Arizona has won four straight, including a win over previously undefeated top-10 opponent Texas A&M earlier this week.

Alonzo Trier, a preseason All-American, averages 22 points a game from a wing position and leads a deep Wildcat team that includes 7-foot-1 freshman DeAndre Ayron, a projected lottery pick.

“I’m looking at a strong starting five and seven potential guys who can come off the bench for them and are all really good,”Johnson said. “You go on and on down their bench, guys like Dylan Smith and (Alex) Barcello who can really score.”

Alabama is coming off a 68-64 win over Rhode Island in which UA dominated the backboards but turned the ball over 24 times.

“We think if we can take care of the basketball, we can score our share of points,”Johnson said. “If we do, we have a chance.

“There are no unbeatable teams as I look at the landscape of college basketball. But you have to earn it. We need every man to do his individual job and have our best teamwork of the year to go with it. We are not walking away from what an opportunity this is for us, playing a very deep, very talented team.

Alabama freshman and leading scorer Collin Sexton was full speed in practice after missing much of the Rhode Island game with an eye injury. Sophomore Braxton Key went through a full practice and will be a game-time decision, Johnson said, although he added that Key is more likely to return in the Crimson Tide’s Dec. 16 game against Mercer.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225.