By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
NEW ORLEANS – The last time Alabama squared off with South Carolina, the meeting left the Crimson Tide searching for answers.
The late January meeting in Columbia left Alabama with its fourth consecutive loss during a midseason slide that was uncharacteristic of a team that had opened the year on a seven-game winning streak.
From that point, the Crimson Tide has won seven of its last 10 games and four of its last five to cap the regular season with a 20-10 overall record and a 9-7 league tally to mark the 26th 20-win season in program history.
Heading into this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament at New Orleans Arena, the cycle has come full circle for Alabama, which hopes to continue its recent momentum that was generated from the earlier loss to the Gamecocks.
Fifth-seeded Alabama and 12th-seeded South Carolina face off at 2:30 p.m. CT Thursday in a game that will be carried live on the SEC Network.
The Crimson Tide knows that despite being a much higher seed than the Gamecocks, that fact
doesn’t ensure a first-round victory.
“We have got a very tough challenge in front of us with South Carolina,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “We’re playing a South Carolina team that beat us in our only game that we played against each other earlier during the year, so we’re very familiar with them as a team. And certainly when you look at them as a team, what’s impressive is how hard they play and the things that they do both offensively and defensively that we have to be prepared for.”
Alabama enters the tournament as one of the nation’s top defensive squads, ranking ninth nationally by holding its opposition to 57.9 points per game. The Crimson Tide’s 30 opponents are shooting just 38.7 percent from the field, which is the 13th-best field-goal percentage in the nation.
Senior Alabama forward JaMychal Green, speaking at Wednesday’s press conference at New Orleans Arena, that the loss to the Gamecocks on Jan. 25 was a good lesson for the Crimson Tide that they need not overlook any opponent, regardless of that team’s previous record.
“You’ve got to come prepared every night, and when we got to South Carolina, we weren’t prepared,” Green said. “They made plays and just had more energy than we did. In this league anybody can win; there have been a lot of upsets, so you just have to come prepared.”
Teammate Andrew Steele agreed, saying that it was an especially valuable lesson for the squad’s younger members.
“Any given night in this league, no matter where you play, you can lose to anybody, and I think that was a lesson that we learned,” Steele said. “Especially us having so many young guys, I think it was a hard lesson we learned, but hopefully we can kind of turn it into a positive when we play them again this next time.”
This time around, Alabama is just focused on the game in front of it.
“You live in the present,” Grant said. “Right now, we’ve got an opportunity to win an SEC Championship if we can win the game in front of us, and take it one game at a time. I would hope that any time you put a championship on the line, any time you compete, that you’re competing to win.”