No. 25 Alabama braces for challenge from UT-Arlington

Alabama is set to play its first game as a ranked team in almost six years.

That ranking will be tested Tuesday when the No. 25 Crimson Tide (3-0) faces Texas-Arlington (2-0) at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Mavericks made an early-season statement on Saturday, winning 89-75 at BYU. UT Arlington shot 54.1 percent and made 12 of 20 3-pointers in the victory.

"They hit shots and we didn't," BYU junior guard Elijah Bryant told the (Provo, Utah) Daily Herald. "We shot horribly from the 3-point line. They executed their stuff really well. They've got three pros on their team. That's a good team, an NCAA team."

Kevin Hervey scored 23 points and pulled down nine rebounds, and Erick Neal had 21 points and 10 assists for UT Arlington, which led by 25 midway through the second half.

A year ago, the Mavericks were 27-9 and won the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title but went to the NIT after losing in the conference tournament semifinals.

They have set their sights higher this season.

"This is definitely a team that can win games in the NCAA Tournament, but you can't win games unless you get there," UT Arlington coach Scott Cross told the (Fort Worth, Texas) Star-Telegram.

"(The Sun Belt has) been a one-bid league for a while, so if you come up short in that conference tournament, your chances of getting there are slim and none. So, we have to be playing our best basketball that weekend in March."

Cross will depend on Hervey, a 6-foot-9 forward, and Neal, his 5-10 point guard to get the Mavericks there.

Alabama is ranked for the first time since the week of Dec. 17, 2011.

Crimson Tide guard Jon Petty made a school-record 10 3-pointers on Friday in a 104-67 rout of Alabama A&M.

Petty, a freshman, was just 5-for-17 from long distance in wins over Memphis and Lipscomb.

"We asked him to start off faster in practice," Tide coach Avery Johnson said, according to "Some guys are slow starters and you've got to get 'em going, but he started practice off fast and he was a lot more focused in practice (Thursday). Probably one of his better practices."

Petty needed just 13 attempts to set the record.

"I think the basket was as big as the ocean for him tonight," Alabama A&M coach Donnie Marsh said. "He's a talented kid."

The Crimson Tide will be without Braxton Key and Ar'Mond Davis on Tuesday, but senior forward Riley Norris could see his first action of the season. Key and Davis are recovering from knee injuries, while Norris has been sidelined with a hip injury.

"Riley will be a game-time decision," Johnson said, according to the website BamaOnLine. "So, what that means is he'll go through another practice (Monday), and then we'll evaluate him in the morning in terms of how he recovers from this practice."

Norris is one of only two seniors on the Tide roster.

"There's a level of confidence and a level of leadership because he knows what he's doing and he's very familiar with playing in games like the one we're going to have -- whether he plays (Tuesday) or the games in Brooklyn," Johnson said. "So, he understands the passion and attention to detail must be needed to be successful."

Alabama faces BYU on Friday in New York in the first round of the Barclays Center Classic, which also includes Massachusetts and No. 14 Minnesota.

The Mavericks, playing their third consecutive road game, return home to take on Western Carolina on Friday.

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