AIA invades Tuscaloosa

Trying out a new strategy in scheduling this year, Alabama will play the second of its two allowed exhibition games Saturday against Athletes in Action, a squad composed of former college players. <br><br>The Tide has been preoccupied for most of the week with final exams.

Normally Alabama has scheduled both exhibition games before its regular-season slate, but Gottfried approached things differently this year.

He commented, "I like it. I think it helps you a little bit during finals week. We've got everybody taking tests all day long. If Saturday night's game was a game that counted on our schedule like it has in the past, then you're nervous about taking (time) off. But the players needed a little time for their academics."

Back on November 8 Alabama played Global Sports in an exhibition game to begin the season. Since then it has played six NCAA games that "count" against its record, which currently stands at 4-2.

"I think what will happen is that probably in a couple of weeks we'll look back and see if this period here really hurt us or not," Gottfried continued. "If our intensity dropped or if attention dropped. I don't think it should, but that's kind of your only fear (with scheduling an exhibition game during the season), that maybe you come out of the week and because you've maybe pulled back just a little bit those things have happened."

Chuck Davis' 7.2 rebounds per outing lead the Tide in that category.

Gottfried said he first observed Arizona use the idea of an exhibition game following fall semester finals, while he was an assistant at UCLA. He filed the thought away and decided to try it this year.

"I kind of like it," he said. "I'm excited about getting a chance to do some of the things in the game that we really haven't had the chance to do. We'll see, but at this point I like it. I think it's going to be good for us."

Saturday's game will tip-off at 6 pm (CT) at Coleman Coliseum on the Alabama campus. In Tuscaloosa television coverage will be provided by WVUA.

At one time Gottfried toured internationally with the AIA squad. Alabama leads the series 3-1.

Gottfried and the team are taking the game seriously, but they'll also take the opportunity to experiment with some different lineups. And it'll be a chance for the coaches to get a long look at some players that haven't had many opportunities so far this year.

Gottfried explained, "We're treating Saturday's game like it's a real game and need to do so. I'm sure Athletes in Action will. At the same time it also gives us an opportunity to maybe experiment a little bit, look at some guys maybe that haven't had a chance to play as much.

"I want to look at some combinations in the game that I haven't played together yet and see how well and how comfortable we are there. But we're going to play the game to win the game just like we would any other game and they will be very good."

From the standpoint of winning versus losing, Gottfried knows all too well that an Alabama squad still developing and coming off a week devoted almost exclusively to academics had better watch out, or AIA will hand them their lunch.

"They're traditionally a bunch of older guys who have played college and pro," Gottfried said. "They played a great schedule in October and November."

So far this season Alabama has played better than expected. Athletes like Chuck Davis, Jemareo Davidson and Earnest Shelton have all performed well. Bama soundly defeated a solid Austin Peay squad in its last game, 65-47. Before that the squad turned in its best clutch performance of the year in defeating Charlotte.

Averaging 16.8 points per game, Earnest Shelton leads the Tide in scoring.

"Charlotte was a good win," Gottfried said. "And I think at the end of the year, Austin Peay is going to have a good year, too."

So far so good with the 2003 Tide, but Gottfried knows the task will get infinitely tougher once SEC play begins.

"There are things that can encourage you about our team," he acknowledged. "And then there are things that when I look out there, and I know who we are going to play against. I look at a Jaime Lloreda (LSU's all-star post player), and I look at Auburn and their experience inside and their size, and I look at our league...

"It brings you back to reality. We've got some work to do."

The Tide's next game will be Tuesday, December 16 against Chattanooga, again at Coleman Coliseum. That contest is scheduled to begin at 7 pm (CT). Alabama leads the Chattanooga series 14-3.

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