Tide Fares Poorly Vs. Quality Teams

Five easy games, five wins. Five games against decent opposition, five losses. That's Alabama's basketball season to date in a nutshell. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide hosts one of those decent opponents, an Xavier team with an 8-3 record.

Alabama has lost four of its last five games, most recently a 72-67 loss at the hands of Wichita State in Coleman Coliseum Tuesday night. The Crimson Tide returns to Coleman Saturday to host Xavier in the last game of a three-game homestand. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. CST.

The four recent losses have been by a total of 19 points (4.8 points per game). Bama's five losses are to teams with a combined record of 43-8 (Oklahoma 10-1, Duke 8-2, Drexel 7-3, USF 7-2, Wichita State 11-0).

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant addressed the close losses Friday.

"Lots of people look at results," he said. "The way I look at it, even if we had won those games we'd need to get better as a basketball team. Losing makes it more pressing.

"We have to get better as a team, recognize what we need to do to get better, to put us in a position to do what we want to do. I think the players do recognize that. I think we've been improving since the Oklahoma game to where we are. Certainly there are things we need to do better against good competition, but I do believe we're getting better."

The way the Tide is attempting to get better is in practice, Grant said.

"As much as we can, we prepare and we trust in our preparation," the coach said. "It doesn't happen over night. We have to keep going over it and going over it."

Grant said that Xavier presents a challenge. "Defensively, they are very sound," Grant said. "It will be a different style of defense than we have seen. They rebound the ball well on both ends. They are outstanding in transition; really get up and down the floor. And they are accustomed to winning."

Alabama and Xavier have met only five times previously with Bama holding a 3-2 lead. The last meeting between the two was in the championship game of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 20, 2006, when Bama took a 63-56 decision.

Alabama is led by Trevor Releford, who returned to the lineup against Wichita State after missing a game with a hip injury. Releford seemed fine, scoring 22 points and ishing out six assists. He is scoring 17 points per game. Fellow guard Retin Obasohan is averaging 14.5 points per game, while forward Nick Jacobs is averaging 10.7.

Oddly, Xavier has played two games this year against Southeastern Conference member Tennessee. The Musketeers defeated the Vols, 67-63, on Nov. 12, but lost to Tennessee, 49-64, at a tournament in the Bahamas on Nov. 29. Xavier has a three-game winning streak, the most recent victory 66-47 at Cincinnati last Saturday.

Xavier is led by Semaj Christon, a 6-3 guard averaging 15.5 points per game. Matt Stainbrook, a 6-10 junior center, is averaging 9.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

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