Alabama hasn’t played many close games recently.
Oklahoma has played plenty of them.
But going into Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchup between the No. 2 Crimson Tide and Sooners in Norman, Okla., the teams are on opposite ends of things.
Alabama (18-2) is coming off a 66-63 victory over Mississippi State.
It was the first game decided by less than double figures during the Crimson Tide’s nine-game winning streak.
Over the first eight, Alabama won by an average of more than 20 points per game.
Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said he isn’t concerned about his team taking things for granted after moving up to its highest position in the rankings in 20 seasons.
“I don’t think this is a group that’s gonna let too much of that get to their head,” Oats said. “Listening to them talk, talking to them one-on-one, I think they all understand there’s plenty of room to get better, and we’ve gotta get better.”
That experience could benefit his team down the line.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta learn how to win a tight game. You can’t generate that in practice,” Oats said. “We’ve been doing end-of-game situations in practice. I told the guys, ‘We’re gonna have to execute some late-game stuff. We’re not gonna be able to blow everybody out by 20-plus points. That’s not the way it works in SEC play.’ ”
Six of Oklahoma’s last nine games were decided by five or fewer points.
But the Sooners (11-9) are coming off a 27-point loss at No. 11 TCU on Tuesday.
The Crimson Tide’s biggest advantage over Oklahoma might come on the glass, where they are outrebounding opponents by an average of seven per game.
The Sooners are outrebounding opponents by less than one per game and have been outrebounded by an average of more than six during their three-game losing streak.
“There are lots of areas of the game I can help them with,” Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said. “I can help them get free of ball screens, set up action, run plays to get them open. Defensively, give them schemes. Rebounding? We have to block out and go get it. … We’re blocking out, but we have to release and go get it.”
Noah Clowney leads Alabama with 8.5 rebounds per game while Brandon Miller is averaging 8.2 per game.
Tanner Groves, averaging 7.3, is the only Oklahoma player recording more than 5.6 rebounds per game.
One of the areas where Moser wants to help his team is freeing up leading scorer Grant Sherfield, especially in the second half.
Sherfield, who is averaging 16.4 points per game, has been held scoreless after halftime in three consecutive games.
“That’s my job,” Moser said. “To help him stay confident, figure things out, navigate. He’s gotta navigate. We’ll navigate through it together.”
Saturday’s game is the 10th meeting between the programs all-time, with Oklahoma leading 6-3. The teams split two previous SEC/Big 12 Challenge games.
Alabama is 4-2 all-time in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Crimson Tide upset then-No. 4 Baylor last season, 87-78.
The Sooners are 6-3 in the event, but for the second consecutive season, have gotten the league’s toughest draw.
Last season, the Sooners fell on the road to then-No. 1 Auburn, 86-68.
— Field Level Media