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February 5, 2013

Leadership separates Tide, Tigers

TUSCALOOSA | What's been missing from an Auburn basketball team that has been reeling of late is exactly what has kept the University of Alabama's men among the leaders in the Southeastern Conference: leadership.

Alabama (14-7, 6-2 SEC) has won six of its last seven SEC games, most of them by narrow margins, with a smothering defense that has overcome offensive inconsistency. Fifth-year senior Andrew Steele, coach Anthony Grant said, has played an integral role in that success with his leadership.

"Andrew's done a great job for us. He's got great leadership, a veteran guy being a fifth-year senior. He's done a tremendous job in everything we've asked him to do," Grant said. "We're really pleased with the way he's playing, and we need him to continue doing the things he's doing to help our team. ... When he's out of the game, he's in constant communication with the guys."

Alabama at Auburn
When: 7 p.m.

Where: Auburn Arena

Records: Alabama 14-7, 6-2 SEC; Auburn 8-13, 2-6 SEC

TV: SEC Network (WTTO)

Radio: 95.3 FM

Grant said Steele's contributions can't always be measured statistically. Steele has averaged just 5.4 points in SEC play but plays 20 minutes per game. Auburn coach Tony Barbee called Alabama a team "playing as good as anyone in the league."

By contrast, Auburn (8-13, 2-6 SEC) has lost six consecutive league games, and plays host to the Crimson Tide at 7 tonight looking to snap a losing streak that has lasted three weeks. Barbee gave increased minutes to some of his younger players in Saturday's 91-77 loss to Missouri but said he is unsure if that will continue.

Meanwhile, his star player, Frankie Sullivan, has struggled of late.

"It's not so much what Frankie's doing, but what other teams are doing to him. He is, no question, the catalyst on our team. Teams are keying on him and making it hard on him," Barbee said. "When teams are trying to take him away, he's still got to find a way to make plays. Even if he doesn't get it going, he's got to provide that leadership for us that's been missing a little bit here lately."

Sullivan averages 16.5 points per game.

"But he's a very talented guy, a veteran guy who has been with the program and understands what Coach Barbee wants in their system, offensively and defensively," Grant added. "He's a challenge with his quickness and athleticism on both ends of the floor."

Grant said guard Trevor Releford, who was poked in the eye in a 59-56 win over Arkansas last Thursday, will be ready to play against the Tigers.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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