Stuart McNair

Alabama begins Southeastern Conference basketball play at Ole Miss

The Alabama men’s basketball team of Coach Avery Johnson opens SEC play Thursday night in the new Ole Miss arena, and the Tide can’t afford to look ahead

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One of the reasons for Alabama’s football success this year in running off 11 consecutive wins this year has been Coach Nick Saban’s ability to have his team focus only on the immediate task, trying to win just one game a week.


Coach Avery Johnson’s Alabama basketball team doesn’t have that one game per week luxury. That challenge could not be more apparent than now, when the Crimson Tide opens the season on the road against Ole Miss Thursday night. Bama cannot look past that game, although there certainly is the temptation, particularly with Kentucky arriving in Tuscaloosa for a game less than 48 hours after the Tide is in Oxford. And hot on the heels of that game is a game Wednesday, Jan. 13, against undefeated South Carolina.


First up, though, is Bama at Mississippi. The Tide and Rebels tip off at 8 p.m. CST Thursday in the new Pavillion at Ole Miss, the first game in the new arena. ESPNU will televise the game.


“There will be a lot of energy in the new building,” Johnson said. “The first five-seven minutes of the game will be important, as will the first five-seven minutes of the second half.”


Johnson may be a rookie college coach, but he knows something about playing games in quick succession from his days as a head coach in the NBA.


“We have to get ready for the opening minute at Ole Miss,” he said. “We have to have carryover from practice. We have to continue to play good defense. We have to help one another on offense.


“If we look at three games, we’re in trouble.”


There’s trouble enough just from the Rebels, who are 10-3 this year after opening Southeastern Conference play last weekend with an 83-61 loss at Kentucky. Alabama is 9-3 with a 68-49 win over Norfolk State in its last outing, giving Bama seven wins in its last eight outings. The Tide getting its first taste of conference play this week.


“We’re excited the non-conference schedule is over and we are beginning SEC play,” Johnson said. “This is the first time for a lot of us, our freshmen and a rookie coach.” He pointed out that the SEC is playing very good basketball through the non-conference schedule.


“Hopefully we continue to play good basketball on the defensive end,” he said. “We’re going to have to. On offense, we need to take care of the ball and get more offensive rebounds. We need to have a better assist to turnover ratio. If we do that, with good defense we have a chance to win.”


Although Alabama has an all-time record of 118-56 against the Rebels, Ole Miss has won the last two games, including defeating Bama in Tuscaloosa last year, 82-74.


Alabama is led in scoring by senior guard Retin Obasohan, averaging 13.4 points per game. Forward Arthur Edwards is averaging 9.9 points and point guard Justin Coleman 8.8. Jimmie Taylor is Bama’s rebounding leader at 5.8.


The Tide’s mission in stopping Ole Miss means slowing down senior Stefan Moody, who has scored 20 or more points in eight consecutive games and averages an SEC-leading 23.7 points per game.


“He’s tough,” Johnson said of Moody. “He can score in bunches. It’s hard to guard him one-on-one. He can take the ball to the basket. He’s got a lot of confidence. He can be a one-man wrecking crew.”


Not to look ahead, but Johnson noted that The University will have its dormitories open early. Although classes do not resume until next week, Johnson is hopeful that students will fill their section for the home SEC opener against Kentucky Saturday.

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