Bama faces daunting task

Alabama's NCAA bubble may have been burst with a home loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday, but a win at No. 5 Mississippi State could easily sway momentum for the rest of the season. <br><br>Much, much easier said than done.

The Crimson Tide (12-10, 4-7 SEC) will play its first of two games against Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday, in a game that will be televised by CBS.

Head coach Mark Gottfried knows his team is in for a tall order.

"We've got a big challenge ahead of us," Gottfried said. "Mississippi State is a great team. But our players have done a good job of responding this year."

The Bulldogs have lost only one game this season, a one-point loss on a fluke tip-in by Kentucky's Erik Daniels back in January.

Forward Lawrence Roberts lead the Bulldogs, a transfer from Baylor who could easily be the SEC's Player of the Year. The 6-8 junior is averaging 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. Pacing the backcourt are guards Winsome Frazier (12.9 ppg, 2.7 steals per game) and Timmy Bowers (15.3 ppg, 4.5 apg).

The other starters are well-rounded and talented in forwards Shane Power (8.9 ppg) and Branden Vincent (7.0 ppg).

Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury has had success against Alabama in Starkville, having never lost to the Tide at Humphrey Coliseum as long as Gottfried has been coaching Alabama. He owns a 4-7 record against Stansbury.

"Like always, your next game is your biggest game," Stansbury said. "Alabama is a very talented team and leads the league in three-point shooting. It will be a challenge but we are looking forward to the opportunity.

Shelton averages 15.5 points per game for Alabama. (AP photo)

Stansbury can be forgiven if he feels a tad confident headed into Saturday's home game.

"We've had some success against them over the last five years," he said of the Tide. "They haven't won over here in a while and we've won some in Tuscaloosa. We've also beat them in the SEC Tournament finals. So I'm sure all of that has added to the rivalry with them. But we are not playing a rivalry -- we are playing a very good Alabama team."

Alabama has lost six of its last seven games, but Gottfried is quick to praise his team's effort. But it's winning -- not effort -- that gets you into the NCAA Tournament.

"You cannot measure a team's heart," Gottfried said. "I know how hard we are playing -- we've just got to find a way to get over the hump. Our guys know you have to win games in order to play in the post-season. But we know this is a great team we are playing.

"State is the best team the SEC has seen in quite some time."

The Crimson Tide is paced by three players in double figures. Small forward Kennedy Winston leads the way at 16.1 ppg, while guard Earnest Shelton is close behind at 15.5 ppg. Forward Chuck Davis, off back-to-back solid games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, is third on the team at 11 ppg.

Saturday's contest will tip off at 3 p.m.

BamaMag Top Stories