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January 8, 2013The University of Alabama men's basketball team will open Southeastern Conference play tonight at No. 10 Missouri at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
It is the fourth consecutive year the Crimson Tide has opened conference play on the road. It will also be the inaugural SEC game for Missouri.
"We have finished our nonconference schedule, and we are excited about starting conference play," UA coach Anthony Grant said. "I am really impressed watching Missouri on film and what they've been able to accomplish and the way they've played. I think they are one of the better teams in the country, and their record and ranking show that. I know that our guys are excited about the opportunity to go and compete and are ready for the challenge."
The Crimson Tide (8-5) comes off a 65-45 victory over Oakland on Saturday. Junior guard Trevor Releford had a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor, while Levi Randolph added 15 and Rodney Cooper had 11.
But the best news of the night was the return of fifth-year senior Andrew Steele to the lineup. Steele, who missed the previous seven contests recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia, played 17 minutes in the victory.
"It's good to get Andrew Steele back," Grant said. "His presence alone, with him being our only senior and a fifth year guy, I felt like that was needed.
"Andrew has certainly had his challenges from a health standpoint, but his work ethic and the amount he has put in and desire he had to get back is a testimony to his character. He started practice last week and jumped right in full speed. He is still limited in terms of how much we are going to let him do at this stage, but his presence at practice increased what we were able to do as a team. It was great to have him out there on the court. He affected the game in a variety of ways that don't always show up in a stat sheet. Our medical staff and everyone involved did a great job."
Steele rejoined what is already a stellar Alabama backcourt, led by Releford. A preseason All-SEC pick, Releford tops the team in points (15.6 per game) and steals (2.0 per game). He is also one of the top 3-point shooters (42.5 percent) and free throw shooters (83.9 percent) in the Southeastern Conference.
Missouri (11-2) beat Bucknell, 66-64, Saturday.
Senior forward Laurence Bowers tops the team with 16.8 points to go along with 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game. He has reached double figures in scoring in eight straight games.
Junior guard Phil Pressey, who was the SEC Player of the Week after scoring a career-best 26 points in the win over Bucknell, comes into league play with an average of 13.8 points per game. He ranks ninth in the country with 7.2 assists per game, including an average of 11.7 over his last three games.