Badgers invade Tuscaloosa

Mark Gottfried said that his players walk to class and to the mall and people still notice them and think, "They're not very good." But that's exactly what the head coach of the Alabama men's basketball team wants.

A win on Tuesday night over No. 15 Wisconsin might just change those perspectives-and, in turn, might get some more fans in the stands.

"We got a great opportunity because I think Wisconsin is a very good team," Gottfried said.

"Obviously they have won the Big 10 twice in a row. This year's team is very good. They have a great player in Devin Harris who is a very good guard who is explosive and can score and runs the team. They all can shoot from the perimeter. We respect their ability to make baskets. We're looking at it as a great opportunity and I hope our fans are as well and I hope we'll have a tremendous crowd there."

Wisconsin's record sits at 8-1 with its most impressive win coming over top-25 foe Marquette. The Badgers' only loss came on the road to Maryland. The Badgers have four starters who average in double figures, but its trademark is its defense. Wisconsin is holding its opponents to 54.8 points per game, but the Tide put 87 on the board against Oregon and 101 in a win on Saturday over Mercer.

The team that establishes the tempo will likely be the one that wins the game. Alabama favors a high-pace attack, while Wisconsin favors the opposite.

Senior point guard Antoine Pettway willl have his work cut out for him on defense. (AP photo)

"They want to control the tempo," Gottfried said. "They're not a team that will rip and run like Oregon did. It's a completely different type game, but hopefully we can dictate some of that with our defense. To be a good basketball team you have to be effective at different phases of the game. We would like to see this game be up and down, but we'll see how it turns out."

Gottfried described the Wisconsin offense as one that may not rush to score a lot of points, but will make you work to defend them.

"They're big and physical," Gottfried said. "Even their guards are good sized guards. They do a great job of setting a lot of screens. You have to defend well. They post the guards up a lot and the big kids can really shoot the ball so they draw your big kids away.

"This is a team that goes to the foul line a lot more than their opponents which means they're really getting the ball around the basket one way or another."

Wisconsin's playmaker is the point guard Devin Harris, a 6-3 junior guard who averages 16.2 points per game and 5.9 assists per game. Forward Alando Tucker, a 6-5 sophomore, is second on the team at 14 points per game. Mike Wilkinson, a 6-8 junior forward, is averaging 11.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Freddie Owens, a 6-3 senior guard, is averaging 10.4 points per game. The fifth starter is 6-3 guard Boo Wade and his average is 6.3 points per game.

The starting five, led by Harris and the physical forwards of Tucker and Wilkinson, will prove tough for the Tide.

"Every game poses different challenges for our guys," Gottfried said. "Our players are still learning, this could be as physical a game as they've ever been in. it's a good test for our guys, we've got to find ways to get rebounds, maybe by not being more physical but by being more quick."

Mercer coach Mark Slonaker said after the game that Alabama point guard Antoine Pettway's defensive pressure disrupted the flow of the Mercer offense. It showed, as Mercer rolled up only 44 points. Pettway will have the ultimate challenge in stopping Harris--although he stands about four inches shorter.

"One thing about Antoine is that although he's small as far as height goes, he's got such a competitive spirit, and he will not back down from anybody," Gottfried said.

Kennedy Winston's fall-away jumper beat the Oregon Ducks in a national showdown. (AP photo)

"This kid Devin Harris is as good as a guard as we've seen here. Antoine has a great challenge. He's got to use his quickness. Antoine's one of those guys who likes to look you eyeball-eyeball and go after you. You've got to love his competitive nature."

Alabama's recent strength has been its shooting, as four players pace the Tide with double-digit scoring averages. Guard Earnest Shelton leads the way at 17.1 points per game while sophomore forward Kennedy Winston is second with 16.2 points per game. Forward Chuck Davis is fourth at 10.9 points per game, and reserve guard Emmett Thomas' 18-point game against Mercer propelled his scoring average to 10.1 points per game.

Gottfried is pleased with the way his offense is working as of late.

"There's a couple of things that's happened-one we're executing what we want to execute a little bit better," Gottfried said. "We're a very unselfish team. We're making some shots. At the end of the day, you've still got to make the shots. The right guy is shooting the right shots, and hopefully we can continue that."

The game will tip off at 8 p.m., and will be televised by Fox SportsSouth. The first 1,000 fans through the gate get a free team puzzle.

"When you study Wisconsin on film, they're very balanced," Gottfried concluded. "We've got to play well. I hope everyone is excited about Tuesday night."

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