TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nate Oats recently did one of the smartest things you can do in today's climate — delete Twitter off your phone.
But the University of Alabama men's basketball coach still checks it out from time to time on his laptop, and he stumbled upon a tweet from former Crimson Tide standout and current Crimson Tide Radio Sports Network color commentator Bryan Passink about the matchup with Kentucky on Tuesday night.
The tweet read: "In the last 5 years UA has won 4 SEC road games in a scenario where the games were blowout wins (15+pts) & there’s also a return game later in the year. When that opponent comes back to Coleman Alabama is 0-4 in those home games."
Although the stat is actually 1-3 (Alabama beat LSU by 15 on the road in Baton Rouge and in Tuscaloosa in 2016-2017), the point remains.
The now, ninth-ranked Crimson Tide, which is riding a nine-game winning streak and in first place in the SEC, beat the Wildcats by 20 points, 85-65, back on Jan. 12 inside Rupp Arena and is looking to avoid a letdown this team in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum (6 p.m, ESPN).
"Big game," Oats told reporters via Zoom on Monday. "Kentucky is a very talented team and they did a great job against LSU. I like where our guys are at but they could easily slip up...
"I read that tweet to our guys and ask them why they thought that was and they had some good answers. We want to try to make that sure doesn't happen but Kentucky is very talented that if you don't come ready to play, they are going to get you. We gotta be ready to play, that's for sure."
While Alabama is looking to flip the script in that sense, it is also wanting to turn the tide in its rivalry with the Wildcats. A win versus the visitors from Lexington would mark the first regular-season sweep for the Crimson Tide since the 1988-1989 campaign.
Since that 20-point beatdown, Kentucky has lost to Auburn and Georgia, while beating LSU most recently. However, Oats believes that coach John Calipari's squad is much better than they were 14 days ago.
"I think they’re playing with a little bit more confidence in their offensive game,” Oats said. “BJ Boston looks a lot better just within those two weeks than he did against us. He’s gotten a lot more of that swagger back. They’re doing a little bit more with their rotations. It’s hard to change a ton in two weeks, but they’re better. They’re 100-percent better than they were two weeks ago, so we’re gonna have to play better than we did two weeks ago.
“They’re still kind of figuring things out, and they’ve had injuries. We’ll see if they get Terrence Clarke back for our game — we’re anticipating he’ll be back, but we’ll see."
For the Crimson Tide to not slip up and keep its vice grip on first place in the league, it will need its "solider" Herb Jones to continue to do it all, offensively and defensively.
The senior wing was forced to exit the first meeting with Kentucky early in the first half due to a dislocated finger that actually broke his skin.
“He had the finger come out and it was crazy,” Oats said. “You saw the look on his face at Kentucky. The skin broke. Even after the game, when I said, ‘Yeah, we’re probably gonna be without Herb for a few games,’ one of my assistants told me Herb said, ‘No, I’m playing in the next game.’ That was after the game at Kentucky when he’s got skin broken because of the dislocation."
Jones has battled through bumps and bruises all season, especially in his most recent effort against Mississippi State, where he took a huge fall on a rebound attempt. He played through it, grimacing in pain, finishing with 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals, and three blocks.
He hasn't missed a game all season and leads the team in Hard Hat awards with eight. His veteran leadership and perseverance are what has made this team different from year's past according to Oats.
"He’s so tough,” Oats said. “And literally, he will do whatever. When he broke the wrist, his personal numbers are gonna take a dive last year. He can’t do anything. He can’t pass, dribble or shoot. His wrist is broke. He’s in a cast. He’s all about winning. If it’s gonna help the team win, ‘Put me in there.’ When I just put him in on defensive possessions at Auburn, ‘Just put me in whatever you need me to do, coach.’ That’s just who he is.
“That kind of leadership, that kind of play, that kind of attitude rubs off on teammates. I mean, it’s hard for somebody else to sit a practice out when he’s gonna play like that. If you’re one of those young guys watching how to be a professional and how to play at a high level, and you see that every day, it’s gonna be hard to try to get a little bruise on your knee and sit practice out.”