Sitting at 8-0 in conference play, the No. 9 Alabama Crimson Tide are rolling through the SEC right now, and the Kentucky Wildcats are tasked with taking them on next.
While the Tide have jumped all the way into the top ten and look to be the runaway favorites in the SEC midway through the conference slate, they’ll host the Wildcats without one of the team’s top players in the frontcourt, and may be without another role player.
According to Alabama head coach Nate Oats, senior forward Jordan Bruner will be out till early-to-mid February, while junior forward James Rojas is not currently practicing and may not be back in time for the Kentucky game Tuesday night.
Bruner is currently averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks in 21.8 minutes per contest, while Rojas is averaging 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game.
Oats broke the news on Bruner in an interview with Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, while discussing Rojas’ status during his pre-Kentucky press conference Monday afternoon.
Alabama's Jordan Bruner (knee) is hopeful to return by early-to-mid February, per Nate Oats. Was averaging 7.8 PPG and 5.3 RPG.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 25, 2021
“Rojas is still not practicing. We’re hopeful that we can maybe get him by game time,” Oats said. “Even if we do get him by game time, he will have been out for close to a week, so…”
Should both Bruner and Rojas miss the Kentucky game, Oats says his team has enough depth to compete with the likes of Olivier Sarr, Isaiah Jackson, Keion Brooks Jr., Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware in the UK frontcourt.
“We’ll need Keon (Ambrose-Hylton) to play well for us again. He’s athletic, active, he’s eager, very coachable, we like him a lot,” Oats said. “We recruited him to be more of a four, not as much as a five. We’re having to play him at the five a little more, but he can rebound, block shots, been working on his skill, can make a jumper. Shoot, he can make threes. He’s going to get minutes.
“Hopefully (Alex) Reese is able to give us some good, quality minutes, longer than normal. When he’s out, a combination of Ambrose(-Hylton), Rojas, even Juwan (Gary), shoot even Herb (Jones) can guard the five sometimes, so we’ve got options there.”
Oats says Alabama’s depth has been crucial this year and has helped the team build momentum throughout the season and continue that into conference play, something that could not be said about some of his recent teams in Tuscaloosa.
“Our depth is a lot better to be able to withstand some injuries this year versus last year,” Oats said. “Last year, guys would go down and we’d be in some serious trouble. (Jahvon) Quin(erly) only missed three games and we won all three of them, and he’s been super vital this year. Herb(ert Jones) went out when we played the first eight minutes against Kentucky, and we were still able to have a quality win. (Jordan) Bru(ner) didn’t play the last ten minutes at Kentucky and he hasn’t played since, but we’ve won.
“There comes a point where you can only withstand so many, but we’ve been able to withstand what we’ve had so far.”
Will Kentucky be able to capitalize on Alabama’s injury concerns in the highly anticipated rematch? We’ll find out Tuesday evening.