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No. 9 Alabama, No. 24 Oklahoma both hot entering battle

If Oklahoma makes it back to the NCAA Tournament -- and it certainly looks like it will -- the Sooners will certainly be battle tested.

When it hosts No. 9 Alabama on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Norman, Okla., No. 24 Oklahoma will be playing its third consecutive game against a top 10 opponent and its sixth such game this month.

According to Stats Inc., the Sooners are the first team since at least 1996 to face six top 10 opponents in one calendar month.

"Another big opportunity for us," Oklahoma's De'Vion Harmon said. "We have a lot of momentum riding in and so do they."

During this most recent stretch, the Sooners (10-4) have knocked off then-No. 9 Kansas at home and No. 5 Texas on the road to stretch their overall winning streak to four.

While the Sooners are used to facing highly ranked opponents this season, the Crimson Tide will be facing a ranked opponent for just the second time. Alabama beat then-No. 7 Tennessee on Jan. 2 in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Crimson Tide (14-3) come into the game on a 10-game winning streak -- matching their longest since the 1996-97 squad won its first 10 games.

A big reason for Alabama's success recently has been freshman Josh Primo, who moved into the starting lineup after a Dec. 19 loss to Western Kentucky.

Over the last three games, Primo is 12 of 17 from behind the 3-point line after shooting 32.6 percent from behind the arc in his first 14 games.

"He played the first handful of games at 17 years old," Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "He's young. Looks young. At times played like he was young. But you always could see the potential. You knew what he was capable of doing based on what you saw him doing in practice. He spent so much time in our gym -- he's one of the biggest gym rats on our team -- so you knew if he just kept working that good things are gonna happen."

The 3-point line figures to be crucial in this one, with Alabama making 10.9 3-pointers per game, good for top 10 in the country.

The Sooners struggled to defend the 3-point line early in the season but during this winning streak, opponents are shooting just 25.9 percent from behind the arc and averaging just 5.3 3s per game.

A big key to the Sooners' perimeter success defensively has been the emergence of Cal State Northridge transfer Elijah Harkless, who moved into the starting lineup five games ago and has given Oklahoma defensive toughness on the outside.

"He's been fantastic," Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. "He's been super aggressive and he's a very physical player. Elijah has no hesitation to get on the floor or stick his nose in there on a rebound and play in a physical way."

On the other end, Alabama's defensive pressure figures to be key.

The Crimson Tide averages 8.7 steals per game while the Sooners are turning the ball over just 10.3 times per game -- 8.3 per game during the current winning streak. Alabama has forced 16.6 turnovers per game during its last seven games.

--Field Level Media

Updated January 28, 2021

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