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February 23, 2013TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama men's basketball team faces a big game - all February games loom large for teams on the NCAA bubble - but also has a big problem.
Defending the big man.
Specifically, that is LSU center Johnny O'Bryant.
In a league not abundantly stocked with quality post players, O'Bryant has become a powerful inside presence. Over the past four games, beginning with the Tigers' loss at Alabama, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore has averaged 21.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. In the one game during the stretch where his scoring declined, against a double-teaming Mississippi State defense, he dished out eight assists to go with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
"He has had to carry a bigger load for us, and he has accepted that role," LSU coach Johnny Jones said on the SEC teleconference earlier this week.
Compounding Alabama's problems in guarding O'Bryant is the uncertain status of one of its own inside players, Nick Jacobs, who was limited to 15 minutes in the Crimson Tide's Wednesday win over Mississippi State.
"We'll see today (at practice) on Nick," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said prior to Friday's practice. "He was still sore yesterday, but we'll see where he is today."
Andrew Steele, the Tide's bench stalwart and lone senior, remains a "game-time decision," Grant said. Steele has missed the last two Alabama games with ankle pain, a situation which Grant said "will have to be monitored for the rest of the year."
Alabama faced LSU just two weeks ago, edging to a 60-57 victory at Coleman Coliseum.
"It came down to the final possession of the game," Grant said. "This is our second time playing them. Any time you go twice in the league, I think there is a familiarity. We just have to take care of ourselves, make sure we're focused, and understand that we're going on the road and (have) the mindset and preparation that we have to have. We know it's going to be a tough game."