February 26, 2013 9:49:51 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama men's basketball team is trying to climb to the top of the Southeastern Conference.
Auburn University is scrambling to avoid a descent to the bottom.
It might have seemed the other way around in the second half of their last meeting. The Crimson Tide's shooters went frigid in a 49-37 defeat on Feb. 6 that set a standard for offensive futility in the in-state rivalry.
Alabama (18-9, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) has rebounded well enough from that humbling defeat to salvage at least some hope for a league title and NCAA tournament berth going into the rematch at 6 tonight (ESPNU) at Coleman Coliseum. For the Tigers (9-18, 3-11), that still stands as their only win in a 12-game, six-week stretch.
"Regardless of what happened in the first game, you get hyped up to play those guys," Tide guard Andrew Steele said Monday. "I don't think we're looking for any extra motivation."
But just in case, that was the fewest points Alabama had scored in the first 146 meetings with Auburn. The Tide shot just 24 percent (6 of 25) and scored 14 points in the second half to blow a 10-point halftime lead.
That stands out as a tough loss even for an Alabama team coming off a triple-overtime defeat to LSU.
The Tide and Kentucky are tied for second in the SEC, two games behind No. 8 Florida. The Gators host Alabama on Saturday.
The Tigers' dreadful stretch has them tied with South Carolina and only a game up on 14th-place Mississippi State in the standings.
Auburn coach Tony Barbee is still waiting for his team to repeat that defensive performance from the Alabama game.
He's also not sure if that win will be a confidence booster for Auburn, which is coming off an 88-55 loss to Mississippi.
"I think you can gain some confidence from that, but they're probably a little different than when we played them a couple of weeks ago and obviously we're a little bit different and not in a good way," Barbee said. "Hopefully that feeling of having beaten them once will bring the confidence, but that's not necessarily what brings confidence, playing a team that you've beaten. It's how you're playing and how you feel about each other as a team and as teammates."
Alabama has been better offensively since that game, but is still winning mostly with a defense that ranks second in the league allowing 58.7 points per game.
Trevor Releford scored a career-high 36 points in a 97-94, triple-overtime loss to LSU on Saturday that snapped Alabama's four-game winning streak. The Tide blew a 10-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation in a game that might challenge the first meeting with Auburn as the toughest loss to swallow.
"They've always been one of the better defensive teams in the league and offensively they're playing with a lot more confidence, putting up 94 points on the road at LSU," Barbee said. "Even though it was triple overtime, that's still a lot of points. They've become more explosive, more complete offensively."
He has shuffled his lineup lately in search of another win.
Center Rob Chubb came off the bench against Mississippi while freshman Asauhn Dixon-Tatum started. Freshman Shaquille Johnson's playing time has steadily increased and he's started the past three games, scoring 18 against the Rebels when No. 2 scorer Chris Denson played only three minutes.
Even leading scorer Frankie Sullivan was lifted from the starting lineup for two games before making it back in for the past two games.
Alabama hasn't dealt with nearly so many shakeups. Steele sat out the LSU game while nursing an ankle injury and said his status is "day to day."
The Tide is hoping to rebound as well as it did after the Auburn game when it rattled off four straight wins.
"You try to learn from every situation," Steele said. "I think we've learned from the Auburn game and (Tuesday) we'll have a chance to prove what we learned against LSU."
NOTES: Prior to the game, fans will have a chance to meet former Alabama standout Robert Horry, who will sign autographs in the main concourse of Coleman Coliseum from 4:30-6 p.m. The former Alabama great will sign one item per person, and no pictures will be allowed during the autograph session.
In addition to the pregame festivities, Alabama football coach Nick Saban and the 2012 national championship football team will be on hand to accept the Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) FOY Sportsmanship Trophy during halftime.
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