After picking up two wins in three games against Michigan State, UConn and then No. 1 North Carolina in the Phil Knight Invitational, the Alabama basketball team now faces an equally tough three-game streak. starting Saturday (2 p.m. CT, ABC) on the road against new No. 1 team Houston. Next, UA will face Memphis at home and 18th-placed Gonzaga at Birmingham, and coach Nate Oats expects that to be just as eye-opening as the Knight Tournament.
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“I like this streak we have. It will say a lot about our team. Starting on Saturday for the next eight days will really show where we are, in what areas we need to improve, if we win or lose. This game on Saturday, we’re going to compete as hard as we can to win, they’re No. 1 in the country. It would be a huge win for us down the road,” Oats said. “If you don’t win the game, where have we been since the UConn game? Where are we with the Carolina game? How far do we have to go? Even if we win they will expose new areas and hopefully we have a group mature enough to learn from both wins and losses.”
Alabama (7-1) is ranked No. 8 in the latest AP poll with a budding star in rookie Brandon Miller, a deep bench and a focus on defense that was absent last season when the Crimson Tide spat towards the end of the SEC. schedule and was ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Miller leads the team in scoring (20.2 points per game) and is second in rebounding with 9.2 per game. Against Houston, the UA defense will be tasked with stopping star guard Marcus Sasser, who averages 17 goals per game.
“He’s a sniper. He can create his own shot; he doesn’t need a teammate to get him open,” Oats said. “…He’s quick. He goes through people if you try to give him length. He’s able to get into the paint, and that’s a major problem with these guys. If you give up the punches and you do defensive rotations, then they smash you on the (offensive) boards.”
Alabama beat Houston 83-82 in Tuscaloosa last year in a thriller, in which Sasser scored a game-high 25. Although there were only a few returning players in it, Oats showed to his team the video from last year’s game, in which the Cougars outscored Alabama 21-7 on the offensive glass. Oats said he would be happy to have time to prepare for follow-up matches against Memphis and Gonzaga, which the Knight tournament schedule did not allow for.
“It’s more like a gauntlet you’d be up against in the SEC where you get Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas back to back, but you have a few extra days between them all to prepare, so that’s the difference between this Michigan State-UConn-UNC (stretch),” Oats added. “We had a week to prepare for Houston, three days for Memphis, another three days or whatever for Gonzaga. We will have more time to prepare. The games will be just as tough, but hopefully we’ll be a bit cooler.”
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