Mitchell, Releford Key Tide Win

It looked like it was going to be the Rotnei Clarke Show, but Tony Mitchell was an award-winning scene-stealer and Trevor Releford a co-star as Alabama defeated Arkansas and clinched no worse than a tie for the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship with four games to play.

Alabama trailed much of the first half, battled back to be even at halftime, and finally pulled away down the stretch to defeat Arkansas, 69-56, before a full house of 15,383 in Coleman Coliseum Saturday evening.

The final score was the largest margin in the game and came with just 13 seconds to play. There were 12 ties and 13 lead changes in the game. Arkansas had its largest lead at five points early in the second half.

Alabama is now 10-2 in SEC play. The only team with a mathematical chance to tie Bama for the SEC West crown is Mississippi State at 6-6. Alabama won both games against the Bulldogs this year, so Bama is assured of the top seed from the West in the SEC Tournament.

Alabama, now 18-8 overall, has at least a temporary lead for the overall SEC lead. Florida, 9-2, plays at LSU Sunday.

Arkansas fell to 16-10 overall and 5-7 in conference play. On Jan. 15, Arkansas defeated Alabama, 70-65, in Fayetteville.

Alabama continues in Coleman Coliseum Wednesday, hosting Auburn at 7 p.m. CST. Bama defeated the Tigers in Auburn, 68-58, on Jan. 22.

Alabama is 14-0 in Coleman Coliseum this year.

Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford--and, of course, Alabama defense--were key down the stretch as Bama finally broke from a 51-51 tie with just over eight minutes to play. Releford twice drove the lane for layups.

The play of the game came on the Arkansas possession. Mitchell made a steal, threw ahead to Releford, then took the alley-oop pass back from Releford for a thunderous one-handed dunk.

Arkansas would score only one field goal and three free throws in the final eight minutes.

Mitchell hit 11-15 field goals, including one trey in five attempts, and 4-5 free throws for a career high 27 points. He also had nine rebounds (six of them offensive boards), three assists including a highlight reel alley-oop to JaMychal Green in the final minutes, two blocked shots, and two steals.

At the half, Releford had five points and Green had six. Those members of what Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey called "The Big Three," turned it up in the second half. Releford finished with 17 points, Green with 16.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "I was really proud of our guys. I thought it was a tremendous effort. Thursday-Saturday (Alabama was at LSU Thursday, then home to Arkansas Saturday, the second consecutive week Bama has had the quick turnaround) is really difficult. I thought we dug in. Give Arkansas credit. They came in with a great game plan. But our guys played well."

Clarke led Arkansas with 21 points.

Grant said, "Rotnei Clarke is a great player. He gets one crack. He got some good looks in the first half, but he also made some tough looks. I thought Andrew (Steele) and Charvez (Davis) did a great job on him, and our other guys did a great job when he came around. All that and he still had 21 points, which says a lot about him."

A key statistic in the game was points off turnovers, something that has been a strength of the Razorbacks this year. Saturday night Alabama had 25 points off the Hogs' 18 turnovers, while Arkansas got only five points off Bama's nine turnovers. Alabama had 11 steals, Arkansas only two.

Grant said, "We've been a team all year that has hung our hat on the defensive end. I think it was fitting that we were able to create some opportunities on the defensive end. Arkansas did a great job in defense, so we had to do some plays on the defensive end. We stayed the course on the defensive end."

Alabama held the Razorbacks to only 32 per cent shooting from the field in the second half. For the game, Arkansas hit 18-46 field goals for 39.1 per cent. The Hogs were good on 7-15 three-point shots (46.7 per cent), but only 2-6 in the second half. Arkansas made 13-17 free throws (76.5 per cent).

Alabama hit 55.2 per cent in the second half and finished the game with 28-59 field goal shooting (47.5 per cent). Bama was only 4-15 on three-pointers (26.7). The Tide hit 9-13 on foul shots (69.2 per cent).

Alabama continues to outscore the opposition close to the goal. Bama had 38 points in the paint, Arkansas 20.

Grant said, "There were some times in the second half when I was a little concerned about the Thursday-Saturday, but around the eight minute mark we dug down deep. At that point Arkansas was up six on rebounds."

The teams finished tied in rebounding at 32.

Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey said, "We knew we were going to have to play 40 minutes of basketball and I thought we competed for awhile. I thought we had a chance. We weren't as good in the second half as we were in the first. Their big three made some plays.

"Alabama deserves the credit.

"Alabama was just better than us at the end."

In the first half, one had to wonder what part of "Rotnei Clarke" in the scouting report on Arkansas that Alabama players didn't understand. Although other Razorbacks contributed, the obvious problem for Alabama in a half that ended 31-31 was Clark. If he was allowed to catch the ball, he either got a shot off, usually a three-pointer, or he got fouled.

At intermission Clark had made 3-4 three-point shots and 5-7 foul shots for 14 points.

Fortunately, Bama had Tony Mitchell. Mitchell was 5-7 from the field, including a three-pointer, and made 2-3 free throws for 13 points. One of Mitchell's basket was a putback at the buzzer to tie the game after the Razorbacks had taken a four point lead into the final minute.

Trevor Releford got the Tide close with an old-fashioned three-point play, a drive, fouled, good free throw. Arkansas got a free throw from Marshawn Powell and Bama had 24 seconds from two points behind. Releford missed a driving layup. Chris Hines got the rebound for theTide, but his putback try was blocked. Mitchell got the rebound and put it back just before the buzzer.

Alabama shot only 40 per cent in the first half, while the Razorbacks hit 47 per cent from the field. The Razorbacks made 5-9 three-point shots, 55.6 per cent, while the Tide made only 2-9, 22.2 per cent. Both teams shot nine free throws with the Razorbacks making six, Alabama five.

Bama did take 30 shots to only 21 for Arkansas in the first half as Bama had six steals to one for the Hogs. The Razorbacks had 10 turnovers, Bama 5. Arkansas had a 17-16 lead in rebounds.

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