ST. LOUIS — For the Alabama basketball team, it comes down to this game.
If the Crimson Tide wants to keep its season alive, outside of a trip to the college basketball purgatory of the NIT, then a win in Thursday’s SEC Tournament game against Texas A&M is essential, a shot of oxygen that could give Alabama an opportunity to enhance its case for NCAA Tournament inclusion against top-seeded Auburn on Friday.
Alabama vs. Texas A&M
When: Noon CT, Thursday
Where: ScottTrade Arena, St. Louis, Mo.
Records: Alabama 17-14 Texas A&M 20-11
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 95.3 FM
A loss, meanwhile, would be a sixth straight for Alabama — the longest Crimson Tide losing streak since 1970 — and while the season might not technically be over, there would be no path erasing the disappointment of a 17-15 record.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson, asked on Wednesday if he was “listening” to bracketologists guessing if UA needed one, two or three wins in the SEC Tournament in order to advance to the NCAA field, said he was not.
“I’m listening to our team,” he said. “I’m listening to make sure they are confident and ready to make sure we reach our maximum potential. What I’m hearing is that they are concerned with our inconsistency — and that comes back on me as the coach — but that they are ready to correct those things and go out and play.
“The only tournament I am concerned with is the one we are in right now. I’m totally focused on what we need to do against Texas A&M. I’m sorry if that’s the coach-speak answer but that’s where my mind is.”
When talking specifically about the Aggies, there was one recurring word for Johnson — rebounding. Alabama was outrebounded 42-35 in its 68-66 loss at College Station last Saturday and gave up 14 second-chance points.
“If we get in a jumping contest with Texas A&M, we’re going to lose,” Johnson said. “But if we box out, put a body on a body like we are supposed to, then we will have a chance.”
After a morning practice at St. Louis University, Johnson indicated Alabama might have a “full, healthy roster” on Thursday. Freshman Herb Jones, who missed the Saturday game with a concussion, “responded well” after practice.
“We are hopeful that he will get the ‘all clear’ in the morning,” Johnson said. “We need him out there.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.