Alabama hosts Georgia in regular season finale - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Alabama hosts Georgia in regular season finale

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Senior Andrew Steele will play his final game at Coleman Coliseum against Georgia on Saturday. (abc3340.com) Senior Andrew Steele will play his final game at Coleman Coliseum against Georgia on Saturday. (abc3340.com)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Alabama men's basketball team will play its final regular season contest when it welcomes the Georgia Bulldogs to Coleman Coliseum on Saturday. The match-up is set to tipoff at 3 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network.

"The game against Georgia is a huge game for us," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "It's our last home game. We get an opportunity to close out our SEC season at home undefeated with a very talented Georgia team coming in. They're playing great basketball right now. They had a huge win last night against Kentucky. In my opinion, they've got a guy that's probably a candidate for SEC Player of the Year in the league in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I think he's had an outstanding year and has really led their team. It will be a great challenge. We had a great game against them in Athens. The last time we played it came down to the wire, which most of the games in our league have, so we expect a very highly contested game. Both teams are going to be fighting a good battle. It should be a lot of fun to watch."

The contest will be the final home game for senior guard Andrew Steele and junior guard Keon Blackledge. Steele is finishing his fifth year at the Capstone, while Blackledge is a junior in terms of athletic status, but will graduate this summer. Both players will be honored prior to tipoff.

In addition, the game will mark the culmination of the 100th year of Alabama basketball. Over 100 former players, coaches and staff members will be on hand for a special halftime ceremony, which is presented by Alabama Power and Legacy Credit Union. All fans in attendance will also receive a one-of-a-kind poster commemorating the 100th year of Alabama hoops.

"Obviously, there are a lot of things going on around the game that certainly are pretty big deals as well," Grant said. "It's the 100 year anniversary celebration of Alabama basketball. We're going to have over one hundred former players, coaches, trainers, support personnel here to celebrate that day. I am looking forward to having a chance to meet some of the former players, some of the guys that obviously laid the foundation here and set the tradition for Alabama basketball that myself and our players are privileged to carry on. And obviously tomorrow is Senior Day, and we have a chance to honor our lone scholarship senior in Andrew Steele. Keon Blackledge, one of our walk-ons, will also be honored as a senior. So it will be a special and exciting day for us."

Along with the festivities surrounding the game, Saturday's match-up will have a lot on the line. The Crimson Tide is currently in a four-way tie for second overall in the Southeastern Conference, along with Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi. UA will be playing for a top four seed, which earns a double bye into the SEC quarterfinals on Friday. However, the Tide could earn as low as a No. 6 seed in the upcoming tournament, which will be held in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on March 13-17.

Releford comes into the Georgia game as the team's top scorer (15.5 ppg) and three-point shooter (.426). An SEC player of the year candidate, he currently ranks fourth in steals average (2.1 spg), fifth in field goal percentage (.490), free throw percentage (.822) and minutes per game (33.1) and sixth in the SEC in scoring average (15.5 ppg). The Kansas City, Mo., native is the only player in the league to rank among the top six in each of these categories.

Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game. Coming into Saturday's contest, Lacey tops the team in threes made (55) and attempted (143) and assists (3.2 apg), ranks second in three-point shooting (.385) and steals (1.5 spg) and is third in rebounding (4.0 rpg).

Combined, the duo of Releford and Lacey contribute 27.6 points per game, or approximately 43 percent of the team's 63.8 points per game.

Sophomore guard Rodney Cooper also averages double figures with 10.9 ppg and has reached double digits in eight of his last 10 contests. He leads the team in rebounding (4.8 rpg), offensive rebounding (2.1 orpg) and field goals attempted (297).

Georgia (15-15, 9-8) having won two straight home contests over Tennessee (78-68 on March 2) and most recently Kentucky (72-62 on Thursday night). Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs with 24 points and 10 rebounds in the winning effort.

Caldwell-Pope, who is vying alongside Releford for SEC Player of the Year honors, tops the Bulldogs in scoring (18.2 ppg), rebounding (7.0 ppg), steals (2.1 spg), field goals made (172) and attempted (395), threes made (76) and attempted (203) and free throw percentage (.812) coming into Saturday's contest. He also ranks among the league leaders in scoring (2nd), steals (T-2nd), threes made per game (2nd, 2.5), three-point percentage (3rd) and minutes per game (2nd, 33.8).

The next highest scorer on the Bulldogs' roster is sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic (7.9 ppg), while freshman guard Charles Mann leads the team in assists (2.8 apg), while adding 6.6 points a game.

Saturday's game will be the 140th meeting on the hardwood between the two schools, which will be the sixth-most games UA has played against any one opponent. The Crimson Tide owns a 92-47 lead in the series. It will also be the second meeting of the season between Georgia and Alabama. In the first game back on Feb. 12 in Athens, Ga., the Crimson Tide held on for a 52-45 victory over the Bulldogs.

The contest can also be heard on the Crimson Tide Sports Network, with Chris Stewart and Bryan Passink on the call. Fans can follow the in-game action with live tweets on the team's official Twitter page @AlabamaMBB.

Alabama Head Coach Anthony Grant


On his thoughts on Andrew Steele:

"I want to just take a few minutes to talk about Andrew here, if I could. Obviously it's been four years since I've been here, so I've had the pleasure of coaching him for four years. I can't tell you of another player that really exemplifies what you look for in terms of a competitor, in terms of a teammate, in terms of being coachable, in terms of just being about all the things that you want players in your program to exemplify. If you're looking for the definition of a guy that's going to sacrifice for his team, it's Andrew Steele. Obviously, it's been well-documented, what he's had to endure over the course of his career and what he means to our team. A lot of you probably aren't aware of some of the things that he's had to go through just here recently. We talked about the sports hernia that he had, the surgery that he had and his ability to come back from that probably sooner than any of us thought he would, and just his desire to get back and help his team and how much we struggled without him. Well, the last week of January he suffered another injury, another freak injury that was a part of something that he had surgery on back in August that we were hoping would get him through the season. Unfortunately, it did not. He has a stress fracture in his ankle that's going to require surgery at the end of the year. It's been a situation where since the end of January he has not been able to get on the floor and practice because of the pain. Basically what we've done is just try to monitor him and basically save him for games and allow him to play in games. We set him out a couple of games to see if that would help, and it hadn't really helped a whole lot. Every time he steps on the floor, it's with tremendous pain that he does it. He's not a guy that if look at him, you wouldn't know anything's going on. But obviously, I think he realizes as of late his minutes haven't been what they had been, and a lot of that has to do with the pain that he's gone through. He's a competitor. He loves this university, he loves this team and he wants to do anything he can to help. Some days are better than others, and those days he wants to get out there and try to do everything he can. As a coach you really appreciate that. I can't tell you how much that means. He and I have sat down and talked numerous times, and I said ‘Listen Andrew, you don't have to play. Don't feel an obligation to myself or your teammates or anything like that. You've paid your dues here,' and he's like ‘Coach, this is my last go around. I want to do everything I can. Whether I keep playing or not, I'm going to have to have surgery at the end of the year, so I want to do everything I can. I'll let you know if it gets to the point where I just can't or I feel like I'm hurting the team.' So that just adds something to it. Any opportunity you get to show appreciation for what he's meant to our program, what he means to this team, I'm hoping our guys will go out tomorrow in a big game and show him how much they appreciate his leadership, his commitment, the example that he sets day in and day out. In spite of anything that may be going on with him on the court, he's always there for his teammates in whatever capacity that he needs to be. I'm thrilled that I've had the opportunity to coach him for four years."

On what coaching qualities Anthony Grant sees in Andrew Steele:

"I think he'd be a great coach. He has a personality about him where his teammates really respect and trust him, and I think that's important. He really knows the game. We used to joke that he'd miss a month and know our plays better than guys that had been practicing for a month. He just has a high basketball IQ and really understands the game. He's coaching our team now, in practice and in games, in the locker room.  He's really in tune to helping other people. I think that's really what coaching is. You have to be willing to get out of yourself and want to help other people achieve, and that's how he plays the game. That's what he's all about. I think he's got the temperament, I think he's got the knowledge, I think he's got the personality, and I think he's going to be an outstanding coach."

On how important getting in the top four seed and getting a bye is for the team:

"I think there are certainly a lot of things you look at. First and foremost, we're all competitors. We want to win. That's the biggest thing. And then obviously, having a chance to go undefeated at home in SEC play would be huge. You just don't know from there what you can control, in terms of how it lays out. I think the only thing that we can worry about is ourselves. Some other things could happen. We could finish anywhere from the No. 2 seed to sixth seed, so we'll worry about that when it comes. Our focus right now is just on Georgia and their team and making sure that we're prepared. Outside of that, that's pretty much it."

Senior guard Andrew Steele


On what his best memories are going to be:

"Hopefully I will be remembered as somebody who left it all out there when I tried to play and I impacted and a lot of winning and I tried my best to be a leader for my teammates and I tried to represent the University well, but I can't really control how that will be determined. But I know that I did everything within my control to try to make sure I represented myself and represent the University well.  These last five years have been probably five of the best years of my life, and the last four I couldn't have asked for a better coach to play for and I think it has just made me a better person because of it."                                          

On his family and its affiliation with the University of Alabama:

"My mom graduated from here so ever since I can remember I have always been an Alabama fan.  When my brother (Ronald Steele) came here, we were fans before that but watching him play here and some of the success that he had, it was exciting just as a fan alone but him being in my family it made it all the more exciting.  I saw how much he enjoyed it here and that really helped my decision to come here because I know if he could enjoy it that much then I knew I would probably feel the same way.  It is something I have been really passionate about.  I love this University.  Not just basketball and all the sports.  I get really excited any time I see Alabama doing something good and you look at a lot of success of all the other sports.  As me being a graduate and being able to represent the University it's really exciting and it is something that I will always cherish with me for the rest of my life."

On his pain and capability for tomorrow's game:

"Well tomorrow I guess we will kind of make a decision when we get there.  The pain has been pretty bad.  It's unfortunately something I have been able to get used to but most times just the competitor in me just kind of puts it out of the back of my mind.  I don't really focus on it.  We've been in situations where a lot of our games have been really close and my teammates have looked at me to be the leader.  That is something I have always tried to do.  To not just focus on me and kind of worry about how can I help someone else and that is really what has helped me to get through it."

On coaching in the future:

"My plan is to get into coaching.  I have had talks with Coach Grant a lot.  I am pretty sure after the season we will sit down and talk about it more but my ultimate goal is to be a college coach but I understand that there is a process that comes with it.  Whether it is being a graduate assistant or it means coaching high school.  It is something I am really passionate about. I credit that a lot to Coach Grant.  I have seen the way he has handled the program and the passion he coaches with and the way he leads us.  It has just really inspired me to kind of take in that field because it is something I can see myself doing.  I have had the privilege and opportunity to learn from him for the last four years and I think that will help me out down the road."

Source:  www.rolltide.com

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