NCAAB: No. 14 Alabama aims to locate defense in meeting with Ole Miss

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Alabama is tied with Tennessee for first place in the Southeastern Conference.

And the Crimson Tide reside toward the middle of the Associated Press Top 25 poll, although they dropped from No. 13 to No. 14 on Monday, two days after a 117-95 loss at Kentucky.

So Alabama (19-8, 11-3) remains in a strong position for the postseason as it visits Ole Miss on Wednesday night in Oxford, Miss. But Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats is beginning to wonder if his team’s ongoing defensive deficiency will keep its ceiling lower than the standings and rankings might suggest.

“We have had question marks about our defense all year,” Oats said. “Those questions marks are completely erased, and everyone knows that we don’t really guard at this point.”

That weakness was especially glaring in the loss to the Wildcats, who shot 63.1 percent from the floor and 54.2 percent from 3-pointrange.

The Crimson Tide had six players score in double figures and soared passed 80 points for the eighth consecutive game. But it wasn’t nearly enough.

“The only positive thing is that we’ve played well enough on offense through the course of the year to be tied for first place,” Oats said. “We have four games left (in the regular season), and we’ve got to figure out how to get these guys a little more motivated to play harder on defense.”

The defense should be helped by the return of Mohamed Wague, who served a one-game suspension against Kentucky for elbowing Florida’s Alex Condon in the head in a game last week.

Starting guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. has missed the last two games with a head injury. It’s unclear whether he’ll be available against Ole Miss.

The Rebels (19-8, 6-8) are scrambling to stabilize their NCAA Tournament hopes after losing five of their last six games. Their most recent setback was a 72-59 home loss against then-No. 20 South Carolina on Saturday.

Now, they will get another ranked opponent in Alabama. Ole Miss is 14-2 at home this season, but the losses have come over the last three home games.

“I think pressure is a privilege,” Rebels coach Chris Beard said. “There’s nobody I would rather play than one of the best teams in college basketball. It’s an opportunity for us to respond quickly.”

Perhaps the Tide’s struggling defense will help Ole Miss straighten out its offense. The Rebels shot just 33.3 percent from the floor against the Gamecocks and made just 3 of 16 shots from 3-point range.

Beard predicted his players would voluntarily be in the gym early to work on their shooting in preparation for Alabama, which is just 4-4 on the road this season.

“That’s just how this team rolls,” Beard said. “So, for us, we’ll look at this, we’ll try to learn from it, we’ll try to improve from it. All eyes are on Alabama on Wednesday night.”

The Rebels’ Allen Flanigan is the team’s leading rebounder (6.5 per game) and second-leading scorer (15.2 ppg). He avoided additional punishment from the SEC following his ejection from Saturday’s game for elbowing South Carolina’s Zachary Davis in the head.

–Field Level Media

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