Tide on a roll?

He's still hampered by a sore knee that must be nursed along from game to game, but Kennedy Winston was on fire Saturday afternoon. Draining shot after shot, even in the face of tough defense, the sophomore forward was calling for the basketball. <br><br>"At the end I definitely wanted the ball," Winston acknowledged.

Kennedy Winston started off hot, and he finished up sizzling. Two-of-two from three-point range, the sophomore forward burned Mississippi State for 31 points. And as the game wound down, he either made the shot or stepped to the line and drained his free throws.

"We were trying to run some time off the clock," Winston recalled. "When it got down to around 10 seconds, I was trying to take the shot every time. My teammates did a good job getting me the ball."

Afterwards Head Coach Mike Gottfried expressed his pride in the young team and their effort on the road. "I was proud of them today," he said. "What an effort."

One of the reasons Winston and his head coach savored the victory so much was because it came on the heels of Bama's disappointing home loss to Vanderbilt. After losing 70-67 to the Commodores at home, the Tide season seemed to be over. Fans and pundits assumed the worst, which didn't necessarily sit well with the Bama team.

"In our locker room and when we got to practice every day, those are the people I'm concerned with," Mark Gottfried said of bandwagon supporters. "They're just a great group of young men."

The win was all the more improbable due to the long odds Bama faced on the inside. The Bulldogs sport one of the strongest frontlines in the SEC, while Alabama's players are still learning. MSU's Lawrence Roberts drew multiple fouls, getting multiple Tide players in foul trouble. Coach Gottfried was left with no choice but to play zone the rest of the game.

He explained, "In the first half Jermareo Davidson had two fouls, Chuck Davis had two, Demetrius Smith had two. Reggie Rambo got four real quick ones."

"When things don't go your way it's easy for people on your team or outside your team to start complaining," Gottfried continued. "But when you recruit good people you've always got a chance. Inside the locker room and when we walk onto the practice court, the players step out there ready to get better.

"That's all you can ask of a team. Play hard and get better. They did that (Saturday) and took a step forward."

When the game is on the line, Winston wants the basketball. (AP photo)

This year's Bama squad is a challenging mix of young talent and a few key veteran players. Predictably, the on-the-court results have been mixed. Some nights everything clicks and the Tide has won against very good competition. But on other days the team has struggled, especially when injuries hit.

From the beginning Gottfried has tried to remain positive.

"What we want the players to do is just keep getting better," he said. "We're going to step in the gym Monday. We'll talk about the things we didn't do well and the things we did do well. We're going to get better and play hard. That's all you can ask of these guys.

"We're young, but let's make sure we have a great attitude and keep improving. Then we'll see where we end up at the end."

Faced with the pre-season prospect of replacing four of five starters in his starting lineup, back in November no one expected much of this Tide squad. But though injuries and inexperience have taken a toll, the athletes have played hard.

Regardless of how the season plays out, Gottfried has been pleased with his team's effort.

"Sports is the best for (learning) life lessons," Gottfried said following Saturday's big win. "We've had a tough stretch of games. This team has come up short a number of times (this season), but they're playing hard every night. We've taken some hits and haven't been able to finish games. But we've got a group of young men that don't ever quit playing hard.

"It's easy to pout. It's easy to drop your head after you lose, after we lost the other night at home to Vandy. But these guys have not done that all year long. Never. I'm proud of them for that. That tells you what kind of people they are.

"It's easy to start pointing fingers, but they never did. They stayed together."

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