SEC Tourney Starts Thursday For Tide

As the Alabama men's basketball team entered the last week of February, it seemed almost certain the Crimson Tide would be a first-day participant in the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament. But Bama has had a strong finish to regular season play and gets to wait until Thursday to begin competition.

Alabama will meet LSU in the second round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome Thursday with tipoff at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. central time). The winner of that game will advance to Friday's quarterfinals against Kentucky.

The top four seeds in the conference receive double byes in the tournament and do not play until Friday. The bottom four seeds start play on Wednesday. The championship game is Sunday, just prior to the announcement of the NCAA Selection Committee for the NCAA Tournament. The only chance Bama has of being in post-season play is to win the SEC Tournament, and considering the Tide's 13-18 overall record and 7-11 SEC mark, that would seem unlikely.

LSU does have post-SEC Tournament aspirations. The Tiders are 18-12 overall and 9-9 in conference play.

One of those losses came at the hands of Alabama on Jan. 25 when Tide freshman Shannon Hale drained a three-pointer with 37 seconds to provide Bama with an 82-80 victory in Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum. It was the only meeting of Alabama and LSU in regular season play this year.

Although basketball is considered the ultimate team sport, it is no surprise that Alabama Coach Anthony Grant is taking this game just as he would any other.

"Nothing changes," he said. "We'll prepare to win the game. We play one game at a time. Our focus is on preparing to win."

Nevertheless, the Tide coach did call the start of the tournament something that he and the team are looking forward to. "It's a great opportunity for our team," he said.

Grant has an appreciation of the Tigers. "They are a talented team," he said. "They are coming off a tough loss." The Tide coach said that LSU's "size and physicality" makes the Tigers tough to deal with, particularly inside.

Alabama comes into the game with momentum, while LSU failed to win its final regular season game. Bama had a surprisingly easy time in defeating Arkansas, 83-58, while the Tigers were upset by Georgia, 61-59, in Baton Rouge.

Grant said the Tide has done well down the stretch – wins against Missouri (80-73), Auburn (73-57), and Arkansas – because of better inside defense and "confidence that comes from winning."

One place Alabama doesn't have confidence in winning is on the road. When the Tide meets LSU in Atlanta, it will be looking for its first win of the season away from Tuscaloosa. Bama is 0-11 in games on the opponents' home courts and 0-3 in neutral site games.

Alabama's defense, though, has been better down the stretch. In the last three games the Tide is holding opponents to only 56.7 points per game, while allowing the opposition to shoot just 30.1 per cent from the floor and 23.8 per cent on three-point shots.

Alabama is led by All-SEC guard Trevor Releford, averaging 18.8 points per game. All-SEC Freshman player Shannon Hale is averaging 8.8 points per game. Another freshman starting for Bama is center Jimmie Taylor, averaging just 2.8 points per game, but coming off a 10-point performance in the Tide's last game. He also leads Bama with 40 blocked shots this year. Juniors Levi Randolph (9.5 ppg) and Rodney Cooper (7.5 ppg) are likely starters, but Retin Obasohan (9.6) and Carl Engstrom (1.7 ppg) have also started.

Bama continues without junior foward Nick Jacobs, who is on a "leave of absence."

In the earlier meeting of Bama vs. LSU, The Tide got 21 points from Releford, 19 from Cooper, 17 from Hale, and 14 from Randolph. Bama had as much as a 19-point lead in the first half of that game, but late in the contest the Tigers had taken a five-point lead before Alabama came from behind to win it in the last minute. The Tigers are led by Johnny O'Bryant III, who had 18 points against Bama in the Tuscaloosa meeting.

Alabama has an all-time lead of 103-68 in games played against LSU. In SEC Tournament games against LSU, Alabama has a 5-2 advantage.

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