Alabama readies for game against South Carolina


CW/ Hannah Saad

Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

With just four games remaining in the regular season, Alabama is in position to improve both its SEC tournament and NCAA tournament standings. That starts with a road contest against South Carolina on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CT. While the Gamecocks are just 14-13 overall, they boast a 9-5 record in the SEC.

Here’s what you need to know about how Alabama is preparing for the final stretch of the season:

Practice changes

The grind of playing an SEC schedule can wear on teams, so coach Avery Johnson has adapted his practices in recent weeks to give his team more rest while maintaining comprehensive game preparation. The idea to limit on-court practice time was formulated through conversations with former Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson, who won five SEC tournaments during his 12 years as head coach in the 1980s.

“It’s something I’ve talked to Wimp about in the past during this time of the year,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked a lot about this and it’s something that worked very well for us leading into the Vandy game.”

Instead of practicing for 140 minutes like it did earlier this season, Alabama practices for about 75 minutes. Johnson cut down on practice time by eliminating drills that “didn’t make sense.”

“We wanted to get off to a quicker start in practice, so after a warm-up, we don’t slide into practice anymore,” Johnson said. “We’re really starting fast and hopefully that’s giving us some energy. Just a lot of the waste that we had in practice we’ve kind of eliminated.”

While practices have gotten shorter, they haven’t gotten any easier.

Johnson said that Monday’s practice would be one of the toughest of the season in order to properly prepare for South Carolina’s physical style of play. Forward Tevin Mack anticipated the scout team to play scrappier than usual.

“I think today in practice we’re going to prepare to be fouled a lot,” Mack said. “Just being really aggressive from the scout team and being able to play tough and play through the contact because we might not get the calls on the road at South Carolina.”

Scouting the Gamecocks

South Carolina struggled in the non-conference portion of its schedule, but has taken advantage of weaker SEC opponents.

The Gamecocks shoot the ball well from outside, ranking third in the SEC in three-point percentage. Johnson said that this was one of Frank Martin’s best three-point shooting teams.

Leading the charge offensively for South Carolina are Chris Silva and A.J. Lawson, who both average 14 points per game. Silva, a senior, also leads the Gamecocks in rebounding, averaging 7.2 boards per contest.

“Silva arguably could be the player of the year in our conference,” Johnson said. “He’s physical, plays hard. We’ve now competed against him for the fourth year that we’ve played against him. You better be ready to put on your hardhat because he’ll embarrass you if you’re not ready to play.”

The Gamecocks are especially dangerous at home, where they’ve only lost one conference game to Tennessee this season.

Jostling for postseason position

With its win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, Alabama moved from the “last four out” to the “last four in,” according to CBS Sports’ bracketology expert Jerry Palm. It will look to further solidify its position to make the NCAA Tournament against South Carolina.

While earning a ticket to the big dance is the end goal, Alabama is also working toward improving its seeding for the SEC tournament. If the SEC tournament started today, the Crimson Tide would be the ninth seed and would be set up for a second round matchup against eighth-seeded Auburn. Alabama and Auburn are both 7-7 in the SEC, but Auburn owns the head-to-head advantage. The Crimson Tide will have an opportunity to change that when the Tigers come to Coleman Coliseum for a rematch on March 5.