Steele, Bama bounce back
Part of Ronald Steeles rehabilitation from early-season injuries has involved watching film of Alabama's 2005-06 season.
The Crimson Tide junior, slowed by tendonitis in his right knee in November and a sprained left ankle in December, has watched hours of videotape to better understand what's missing from his performance in 2007.
"It was entertaining," he said. "I don't even feel like that same player sometimes. Watching it helped me get my confidence up. It's hard enough to battle the physical part, but the mental part is something I can control."
Ronald Steele's mental rehabilitation has paid off big for the 25th-ranked Crimson Tide. The team has taken strides in improving its defense and picking up the intensity on both ends on the floor.
"In the last couple of games it's pretty obvious that he's got a lot more bounce in his step," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "He's got a little bit more quickness. He's a little bit more aggressive. Hopefully that will continue."
Ronald Steele and his teammates will need that quickness and aggressiveness tonight when they travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. The Vols are 14-0 in Thompson-Boling Arena this season under second-year coach Bruce Pearl, relying on a pressure defense and an up-tempo style that creates havoc for slower-paced teams like Alabama.
"I think the frenzied type pace of the game, the pressing, the crowd getting into the game, I think that all plays together for them," Gottfried said. "I think they've struggled a little bit on the road because I don't know that they feed off the crowd like they do at home. We've got to handle that full court pressure and not turn the ball over. And I think after that, you've got to do the things you do every night."
Doing the things they do every night may be difficult for the Tide. Tennessee is like many of the other Southeastern Conference teams Alabama will face this season, that relies on an undersized guard-oriented attack that can't match up with the Crimson Tide's post attack of Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix, but can dictate the style of play and force Alabama to play a smaller lineup to keep pace.
"I think all the teams that play the fourth guard have given us trouble," Gottfried admitted. "Tennessee will do that some of that with Dane Bradshaw and play in him kind of as a power forward even though he's really a perimeter player. But it's something we just have to adjust to in the game and get through that."
Ultimately, though, the Tide's chances at beating Tennessee for the eighth consecutive time hinge on the performance of Ronald Steele, both in terms in breaking the Volunteers' press and in helping Alabama's half-court offense run smoothly.
"Obviously, he's been hampered by his injuries, but he's definitely moving better," Pearl said. "Last year he could get to the rim. The thing that he developed last year was the 3-point shot. Now this year he's better from the 3 than 2 because he can't get to the rim as well. (Lately) he's getting to the rim better. When you have the ability to do both, that's what really sets you apart."