Alabama Falters, Falls At Ole Miss

Earlier this week, one familiar with the NCAA selection process was discussing Alabama's chances of getting an invitation to the national tournament. The key game, he said, was Saturday at Ole Miss. "Win that game and then just play well against Florida and Georgia," he said.

And if Alabama lost to Ole Miss? It might be too much to overcome, mused the expert.

Alabama did lose to Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide had relatively poor shot selection and committed far too many fouls and the Mississippi Rebels took a 68-63 decision in Oxford Saturday.

Although Alabama continues to be tied for the lead in the Southeastern Conference with an 11-3 record (the same as Florida, which leads the Eastern Division after the Gators lost at Kentucky Saturday), it has been repeated ad nauseum that Alabama played too poorly in November and December and that the Crimson Tide is the victim of a weak SEC Western Division, which puts the NCAA bid in jeopardy.

Alabama, which had defeated Ole Miss 74-64 in Tuscaloosa, fell to 19-9 overall. Mississippi improved to 18-11 overall and 6-8 in SEC games.

On Tuesday, Alabama goes to Gainesville for what is considered the most critical game down the stretch to determine the SEC regular season championship. Tipoff against Florida is at 7 p.m. EST (6 p.m. central time) with television coverage by ESPNU.

Alabama, champion of the SEC Western Division, has now completed competition in the West. The Tide's final game of regular season play will be next Saturday when Bama hosts Georgia.

Alabama had won 14 of its last 16 games before losing just its third game since January 1. The Tide finished 8-2 against Western Division teams, and all Bama losses this year have come on the road.

Alabama had hot start to the second half. After trailing by five points at intermission, 35-30, Bama went on a 21-5 run (including the last 12 points in a row in that run) for a 51-40 lead with just under 14 minutes to play.

But the Rebels outstanding guard, Chris Warren brought the home team back. Warren, the nation's free throw shooter, got to the line plenty of times, but also scored from the field. He had eight straight points to get Mississippi back in the game at 51-48.

After the Rebels scored six points on free throws, a short jumper tied the game at 56-56.

From there it was back-and-forth until a critical episode with under three minutes to play. Mississippi had made three more free throws for a 59-58 lead. Bama point guard Trevor Releford got loose on a fast break and was going for a lay-up. He appeared to be fouled, but there was no call. Instead, Bama's Senario Hillman was whistled for a foul on the rebound. The drew a complaint from Tide Coach Anthony Grant, which resulted in a technical. Three more free throws by the Rebels pretty much iced the game.

But Bama didn't quit competing. JaMychal Green took a pass underneath for a basket with 1:22 to play. With 37 seconds to play, Green got it underneath again, made it again, and was fouled. When it made the free throw, Bama trailed by one point at 64-63.

Alabama had to foul and the Rebels got two free throws for a three point lead.

On Bama's next possession, Releford went inside. There was contact, but no foul called, and the ball bounced away into the hands of the Rebels who (what else?) shot a few more free throws for the final margin.

Alabama seemed hardly ready to play to start the game as the Tide had two poor offensive trips and two poor defensive trips to fall behind 4-0 in the opening moments, but Bama battled back to take the lead. Alabama had the lead at 11-10 with 12:20 to play.

Back-up point guard Ben Eblen fouled Ole Miss on a made three-point shot, and the resulting free throw and four-point play gave the Rebels a 15-11 margin. Bama would tie the game a couple of times, at 17-17 on a short jumper by JaMychal Green and a duplicate of the shot by Tony Mitchell at 19-19 with 8:50 to play, but back-to-back turnovers by Trevor Releford and fouls by Andrew Steele and Senario Hillman would allow the Rebels to get out to an eight-point lead at 27-19.

Bama would get back to within three points a couple of times, including just before the half when Chris Hines scooped up a loose ball and fed Mitchell for an alley-oop slam. But Bama gave up a slam dunk as the clock expired for a 35-30 Rebels lead at halftime.

JaMychal Green led the way for Alabama with a 17-point and seven-rebound performance.  Senior forward Chris Hines scored a career-high 15 points and collected seven rebounds, while sophomore forward Tony Mitchell added 13 points.  Freshman guard Trevor Releford tallied all eight of his points in the second half.

"I thought it was a hard-fought game," UA Coach Grant said. "Give Ole Miss credit, they did the things the needed to do to win. We fought, but just weren't able to get the ‘W.'"  

"I thought we got into a rhythm in the second half and were scoring effectively in transition and then the pace of the game of the game changed," Grant said. "Ole Miss is a great three-point shooting team and we were able to overcome that, but we couldn't overcome the free-throw line."  

Both of Mississippi's guards are now eligible to vote at the free throw line. Warren hit 9-11in scoring 25 points. Zach Graham hit 11-12 in scoring 17.

Alabama had a 12-point advantage in scoring from the field, hitting 25-57 shots (43.9 per cent) to Mississippi's 19-48 (39.6 per cent). But the Rebels shot 34 free throws (making 27) while Alabama made 10-16.

The free throw discrepancy is unusual for Alabama because the Tide works the ball into the paint, while it was the Rebels' guards who got all the free throw opportunities. Bama was whistled for 26 personal fouls. the home-standing Rebels 17.

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