Tide, Dogs Going Different Ways

What a difference a month or so makes. When Alabama went to Starkville on January 16, the Crimson Tide was facing a Mississippi State team that had won against South Carolina and on the road at Georgia. The Crimson Tide was 1-1.

Alabama won that game comfortably, 75-43. And Mississippi State has not won since.

The Crimson Tide, riding a modest three-game winning streak but an impressive nine wins in the last 11 games, will host the Bulldogs, skidding with 10 consecutive losses, in Coleman Coliseum at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Bama is 17-8 overall and 9-3 in Southeastern Conference games, second in the league. Mississippi State is 7-17 overall, 2-10 in the conference.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said, "The first time we played them, they were 2-0 in the league. They had momentum in their favor. We were 1-1. Obviously, they've had some difficulties here of late. I can't speak for their coach, but ... any time you take over a program and you're trying to build and change a culture and establish your identity, there's going to be some things that happen over the course of doing that. I think they are going through some of that. For us, we expect, with them being an hour away from our campus and it being a rivalry, a tremendous effort and great energy in the building and we've got to be able to match that and surpass it."

Mississippi State is under a new coach this year, Rick Ray.

Grant said, "We are not a team that can take anyone lightly. Hopefully, our guys are intelligent enough to see that. If we don't play our best game, we can lose to anyone.

"We have six games remaining in conference so, for our guys, every game is critical. We're excited to be in a position where we control our destiny as we head to the conference tournament. The focus right now is to take it one game at a time and understand what we have to do each individual game. With Mississippi State coming up, a game that we played earlier in the conference season, the score was one sided but I think that myself, the staff and the players understand that it was an eight point game at the half. We're dealing with a team that is going through some struggles right now but has guys that are capable, so we have to bring our best focus, our best energy and play up to where we're capable of playing."

Starting with the Mississippi State game, Alabama has held 10 consecutive opponents to under 60 points in each game. The Tide has held 17 of 25 opponents under that 60 mark.

Although Alabama had only a 30-22 lead over the Bulldogs at halftime in Starkville and the Tide hit five quick three-point shots en route to a 45-21 second half roll, Grant said he thought the key to the romp was Bama forcing 21 turnovers and Alabama scoring 25 points off those turnovers.

Alabama won the first game against State without Trevor Releford, who was out with an ankle injury. The junior guard comes into the game as Bama's top scorer at 14.4 points per game. He also tops the Tide in three-point field goal percentage (40.3), steals per game (2.0), and free throw shooting (82.1).

Sophomore Trevor Lacey is second on the team in scoring with 12.0 points per game. Coming into Wednesday's contest, Lacey leads the team in threes made (44) and attempted (113) and assists (3.2 apg). Combined, the duo of Releford and Lacey contribute 26.4 points per game, or approximately 42 percent of the team's 62.4 points per game. Soph Rodney Cooper also averages double figures with 10.8 ppg and has reached double-digits in five consecutive contests. He leads the team in offensive rebounding (2.1 pg).

In the first meeting between the two teams, Alabama captured a 75-43 road win at Mississippi State. Levi Randolph led the charge with a career-high tying 18 points, while Nick Jacobs came off the bench to record a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards. It was the Tide's most lopsided SEC win of the year and the most points UA has scored in league play this season.

Freshman guards Craig Sword and Fred Thomas are the only two MSU State players to average in double figures, with 10.2 and 10.0 points per game, respectively.

Alabama and Mississippi State will meet for the second time this season, and the 190th time in series history – the most times UA has played any one opponent in program history. The Tide owns a 116-73 edge in the all-time series, including four of the last five contests played between the two teams.

Grant said that senior Tide forward Andrew Steele, who was held out of the last Bama game, is "doubtful" for Mississippi State. He is nursing an ankle injury.

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