- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama looks to extend its current three-game winning streak on the road at LSU on Saturday. The Tide won Round 1 of the home-and-home series, but this time the game shifts to Baton Rouge, La., where the Tigers are 8-3 on the year.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant was asked of the suspension to junior forward Tony Mitchell at Friday's news conference but said there was “nothing new,” adding that he would not play against LSU on Saturday. Mitchell, who is second on the team in points per game, first in blocks and second in steals, still has the opportunity to rejoin the team this season, according to Grant.
Keep Hankerson involved
With Mitchell out, sophomore combo guard Charles Hankerson appears ready to step up. Hankerson scored 14 points in 23 minutes off the bench against Auburn, providing a spark to his team on the road. Grant said he’s been pleased with Hankerson’s demeanor and infectious attitude throughout the season.
“You’re always going to see him enthusiastic whether he’s in the game or out,” Grant said of Hankerson. “He’s one of the guys that has a lot of energy, always cheering for his teammates. He’s a guy that’s that way in practice. His enthusiasm and energy certainly affects his teammates.”
Hankerson began the season as a spare part off the bench but in the last three games has averaged 16 minutes a game with 26 points over that stretch. If he can maintain or surpass that production, expect Alabama to continue its positive run.
Hankerson wasn’t the only one to contribute at Auburn on Tuesday. Carl Engstrom, who went underground for several games, reappeared and contributed with 4 points and a blocked shot in 7 minutes of play. Rodney Cooper also got in on the action, shooting a perfect 3 of 3 from the field, including 2 for 2 from beyond the arc. He finished with 8 points in 12 minutes of play. All told, 10 players put in a minimum of 7 minutes on the floor and all but Ben Elben scored.
For the Tide to make a final push heading into the SEC tournament, it will need a strong team effort. Andrew Steele, who got his first start of the season at Auburn, said the team is riding high after three consecutive wins and, despite a few rough patches this year, never lost confidence.
“From top to bottom, everyone has had fun,” Steele said. “I don’t think we ever really lost confidence. ... When you make shots it makes things better.”
Make the necessary adjustments
The last time Alabama faced off with LSU, the Tide won handily at home, 69-53. But that was only the second game of league play and the Tigers were without McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant. The 6-foot-9 freshman forward will be available this time and could impact what Alabama tries to do in the paint. Alabama shot better than 50 percent against LSU in the Jan. 11 showdown -- well above UA’s season average -- so look for adjustments from coach Trent Johnson’s squad. Grant said there’s a familiarity between the two schools and he expects to see a “different ball club” in Baton Rouge.
13hDerek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren