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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2007
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Steele's aches still a pain to Alabama team

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

It's a situation Alabama coach Mark Gottfried probably never thought he would have to deal with.

Against LSU, with close to four minutes remaining and Alabama losing on the road, Gottfried decided that his best lineup didn't involve preseason All-American point guard Ronald Steele.

With Brandon Hollinger and Mykal Riley running at the guard spots, the Tide didn't show much offensively, and Gottfried quickly reinserted Steele into the lineup despite his ailing ankle.

But almost halfway through the SEC season and Steele still not at 100 percent, Gottfried seems resigned to changing the game plan that he originally built around his point guard.

"We've looked at our team and realized right now, especially with Ron's (Steele's) situation with his health, that we need to find a way to make sure the ball is around the basket," Gottfried said. "That's been a point of emphasis recently."

The past couple of games, Alabama has made a conscious effort to try to use its inside strength.

In the Tide's loss to Arkansas, Athens High graduate Richard Hendrix finished with a team-high 28 points, and in the team's come-from-behind win against LSU on Wednesday, Jermareo Davidson scored a career-high 31.

"For us, it's obvious that (Steele is) not all the way healthy," Gottfried said. "But we have to find ways to win despite him not scoring baskets."

Riley and Hollinger have given Alabama some production in the backcourt.

After being shut out against Arkansas, Riley found his shooting stroke against the Tigers, nailing two big 3-point shots in the second half and finishing with 12 points. He averages 12 points a game.

When asked about Riley's slump last week, Gottfried said the best thing he could do as a coach was get Riley in position for his shots.

"I finally was making shots," Riley said. "I just kept shooting, and if you keep shooting, it will start to go in. I felt good after the first shot went in. I felt like I could hit a couple of more."

Hollinger's contributions have been more at the defensive end. At 5-foot-11 170 pounds, Hollinger rarely contests a shot, but his tight coverage of ball-handlers has helped the Tide's defense recover from bad games against Vanderbilt (94 points allowed) and Auburn (81 points).

However, Steele is still the guy who when healthy can make all the plays that the Tide needs to win.

According to Riley, Steele still commands a lot of double teams, leaving teammates open. And despite not being healthy, Steele's basketball mind has earned him his playing time.

"Defensively, the question is, how well can he guard somebody?" Gottfried said. "He's such an intelligent player that he's going to find a way. If he can't physically do something, he's going to mentally help your team."

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