Who: Arizona Wildcats (7-2) at Alabama Crimson Tide (5-3)
Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
When: 11 a.m. Sunday
Listen: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
Probable starters: Arizona
G Justin Coleman (5-10 senior)
G Brandon Williams (6-2 freshman)
F Brandon Randolph (6-6 sophomore)
F Emmanuel Akot (6-7 sophomore)
C Chase Jeter (6-10 junior)
Probable starters: Alabama
G Kira Lewis (6-3 freshman)
G John Petty (6-5 sophomore)
F Herbert Jones (6-7 sophomore)
F Tevin Mack (6-6 junior)
C Donta Hall (6-9 senior)
How they match up
The Wildcats beat Alabama last season for the first time in three all-time games with the Crimson Tide, 88-82 at McKale Center. Previously, Alabama beat Arizona in the 1985 and 1990 NCAA Tournaments, a 50-41 first round game at Albuquerque in 1985 and a 77-55 second-round game at Long Beach, California, in 1990.
The Wildcats and Crimson Tide are finishing up a two-year series in which Alabama played at McKale Center last season, a deal facilitated by former UA athletic director Greg Byrne, now the athletic director at Alabama. No payments were exchanged.
With freshman Collin Sexton leading the way, the Crimson Tide won 20 games last year, including a first-round NCAA tournament game with Virginia Tech, but has struggled so far this season without him. The Tide lost to Northeastern in Charleston, S.C., at Central Florida and, on Tuesday in Tuscaloosa, to Georgia State.
Without Sexton, who went 15 for 16 from the free throw line against Arizona at McKale Center last season, the Tide is trying to mix in 17-year-old standout guard Kira Lewis with what is otherwise a veteran team. Lewis is already the team’s leading scorer, pouring in 19 points with 5-for-10 3-point shooting on Tuesday against Georgia Southern. He’s a 36.8-percent 3-point shooter but hits 58.7 percent from inside the arc and has 20 assists to 12 turnovers so far.
Shooting guard John Petty was sixth in the SEC in made 3-pointers last season while making them at a 37.2–percent rate, but is down to 34.8 percent so far this season. The Tide has a physical frontcourt, with the 6-7 Herbert Jones at either forward spot, while 225-pound Tevin Mack brings toughness and 245-pound Galin Smith is a solid enforcer-type who can screen and post up. Then there’s 230-pound rim protector Donta Hall, who blocks an average of 2.1 shots per game. Hall is also a 54.3 percent shooter who can extend to midrange. Alabama is just getting back senior forward Riley Norris, a versatile wing who missed most of last season with a hip injury.
The UA of the Southeast doesn’t rely heavily on 3-pointers, taking only 36.1 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, but it is aggressive getting to the rim and the free-throw line. Alabama is also a good offensive rebounding team, collecting the ball back 38.1 percent of the time after missed shots, the 31st-best mark in the country
He said it
Arizona is “a really good-looking team. Obviously, they’re a little different (this season) in the backcourt. Justin Coleman has been playing lights out. Chase Jeter has a lot of experience and is playing really well. They’re a really good 3-point shooting team; they have a lot of great 3-point shooters coming off the bench.”
— Alabama coach Avery Johnson
Key player: Kira Lewis
As with Sexton a year ago, Alabama turned to a five-star freshman to become its leading scorer. The difference is that Lewis skipped his senior season of high school to join the Tide. He’s still only 17 years old, the second-youngest player in Division I, and has just 165 pounds on his 6-3 frame. But he’s exceptionally quick, good at drawing fouls and hits 88.4 percent of his free throws when he gets to the line.
Key player: Brandon Randolph
The Wildcats’ sophomore wing is still under the 30-percent mark from 3-point territory on the season, but he can get points when it matters most. Randolph hit all nine free throws he took at UConn last Sunday and caught fire after halftime Thursday against Utah Valley, hitting 4 of 4 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half to rescue UA from a 12-point halftime deficit.
Let’s just move on
When Alabama coach Avery Johnson met with reporters in Tuscaloosa on Friday, he didn’t spend a whole lot of time rewinding the Crimson Tide’s 83-80 loss to Georgia State.
In fact, he said he couldn’t.
“Very disappointing, and watching it on video, it gets even worse,” Johnson said. “My head probably will explode and I won’t be able to get through this press conference if I talk about it.”
Alabama led 52-31 at halftime over the team expected to win the Sun Belt Conference, then fell apart, shooting only 29.2 percent in the second half.
“We’ve got to get a better mentality,” Johnson said. “When teams turn up their intensity on defense, we’ve got to be able to respond and we didn’t respond…. The guys who were on last year’s team, a tournament team, they say they want a chance. Well, here’s your chance.”
Johnson said the Tide is also not communicating well.
“This team really don’t talk,” Johnson said. “We’re just too quiet.”
Coleman revisits Coleman
When Justin Coleman transferred to Samford at the end of the 2015-16 season, having played the second of two years at Alabama for then-new coach Avery Johnson, nobody had any reason to believe he’d show up at Coleman Coliseum again.
But the Birmingham point guard wound up spending just one year playing for his hometown school, then made a grad transfer to Arizona last summer, which meant he’d make an unscheduled return stop to Tuscaloosa on Sunday.
Coleman will just have to use the visitor’s locker room this time. And Johnson will have to figure out how to deal with him, not coach him.
“Justin is a terrific young man, a high-character kid,” Johnson said. “I really enjoyed my year working with him. He was playing 25 minutes a game when he decided to transfer. (The move to Samford) wasn’t our choice but that was something he wanted to do.
“He wanted to go play in Birmingham and be closer to his family. We thought he was going to finish his career there. But obviously he had this opportunity and he’s taking advantage of it.”
When he served as Arizona’s athletic director between 2010-17, Greg Byrne started a weekly email to fans and boosters called “Wildcat Wednesday,” which served to recap team performances and inform fans directly of other news and promotions involving the athletic department.
At Alabama, Byrne managed to upgrade his newsletter with an upscale sponsor: The school’s athletic website now features the “Crimson Column Presented by Mercedes-Benz.”
In the Crimson Column’s latest version, Byrne congratulates Alabama’s football team for winning its 27th SEC title, while detailing holiday events and seeking scholarship donations.
And, instead of asking Arizona fans to “wear the colors” on Fridays, he now has #RollTideFriday, which prods Alabama fans to wear Tide gear at the end of the workweek. The latest newsletter features photos of one fan wearing an Alabama polo in Budapest and a decked-out family of Bama fans hanging out in Treasure Cay, Bahamas.
Arizona’s average turnover margin, the best in the Pac-12 (Alabama’s is 0.1).
Alabama’s average rebounding margin, fourth-best in the SEC (Arizona’s is 2.7).
Minutes per game Justin Coleman played over two seasons at Alabama, averaging 6.1 points and 2.4 assists.