Alabama is ranked #135 in RPI and UCLA is ranked #78. UCLA's schedule this year has been so soft that 5-6 Alabama represents a tough game. Alabama has some opponents in common with UCLA having lost to Duke 74-64 and played Drexel even losing 85-83 in 3 overtimes. They recently lost to #11 Wichita State narrowly at home 72-67.
One thing that can be said about Alabama is they are used to playing (but not winning) tough games.
Alabama's non-conference strength of schedule is ranked No. 14 in the nation by ESPN.com. In fact, the Tide's six losses have come to teams with a combined record of 56-13 (.812) as of Dec. 28 [Oklahoma, 11-1; Duke, 9-2; Drexel, 8-3; USF, 7-4; Wichita State, 12-0; Xavier 9-3].
Alabama has not won a game this season in contests that have been decided by 10 or fewer points (0-6). In fact, UA's six losses have been by a combined total of 31 points - an average of 5.2 points per game.
Alabama dropped a narrow decision to Xavier on Dec. 21, 77-74. The loss marked the fifth in the Tide's last seven contests - all of which have been decided by a combined total of 22 points (4.4 points per loss). Senior guard Trevor Releford led Alabama with 17 points, while freshman forward Shannon Hale (14) and junior guard Levi Randolph (13) both reached double figures in the losing effort.
This is a real team that could give UCLA some problems but it is a game they should and must win.
As an added reason to watch this game is Bill Walton will be pontificating on the game on ESPN 2 at 7 pm.
Alabama is led by senior Trevor Releford who has a fine career at Alabama, last year he was:
Named to Associated Press and All-SEC First Team, as well as SEC All-Defensive Team ... also tabbed to the Lefty Driesell Defensive All-American Team and USBWA First Team All-District IV
Releford is part of a team that works hard on defense although the numbers don't completely show it this year. They are ranked 77 in field goal percentage defense holding teams to 40.6% from the field.
Joining the 6' Releford in the backcourt. is the 6'1" Sophomore Retin Obasohan of Belgium. Retin is not shooting the ball particular well but he does average an impressive 2.8 steals per game.
The interesting thing about the backcourt of Trevor and Retin is they are not good passers (Alabama ranks a terrible 278th a game in assists) and have almost as many steals (4.7 per game) as assists (5.1) and have more turnovers than either (5.4).
The small forward/third guard is Levi Randolph. After Trevor, Levi is the second most experienced member of the Alabama team and is a three year starter. Levi is something of a glue guy who is second on the team in rebounds the last two seasons and is solid but not spectacular showing 45% and 37% from three.
The third leading scorer and best inside player for the tide is 6'8" forward Nick Jacobs. Jacobs does not shoot from three and hits 48% from the field. He only plays 25 minutes a game despite fouls not really being an issue.
The nominal starting center for the tide is freshman 6'10" Jimmie Taylor, the number one player in Alabama high school last season. Taylor does not shoot much but does well when he does, hitting 58% from the floor (only 50% from the free throw line.) Really he is just a big body with potential.
The person who sucks a lot of minutes off the bench is 6'6" Rodney Cooper. Although he does not start Cooper basically plays 30 minutes a game. Listed as a guard, he is really a forward on defense and leads the team in rebounds. The problem with Cooper is he does not shot well, hitting only 36% shots. He can shoot the three but really Alabama needs him to rebound and play D.
The last guy to see significant minutes is another 6'4" guard Algie Key. Key can rebound fairly well for his size (a trend for Alabama guards) but does not like to shoot outside.
Alabama is a decent defensive team that lacks good inside players. Alabama is led by a very good all-around player in guard Trevor Releford but the rest of the team is more jack of all trade guard-wing types. This is not the type of team that can give UCLA trouble on paper (no good bigs) but is a solid team that is not a cupcake.