Tide Wins At Arkansas

Alabama rallied from a 22-point deficit and took another step towards an NCAA Tournament berth with an impressive 72-68 overtime win over Arkansas in Fayetteville Wednesday night. Bama used impressive defense, holding the Razorbacks without a field goal for some 13 minutes, in fighting back for the victory.

The win improved Alabama's record to 16-10 overall and 8-7 in Southeastern Conference play. Bama now has a four-game winning streak with three of those victories on the road. The win gave Alabama a sweep of the Razorbacks this year. The Tide had defeated Arkansas by an 81-65 margin in Tuscaloosa earlier this year.

Although Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried will not discuss Alabama's NCAA Tournament chances, that is about all anyone else in the Tide family wants to consider. Bama is now assured of no worse than an 8-8 SEC record, and historically the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has excluded teams with losing records in conference play. (An exception was Alabama last year, but conventional wisdom is that the committee gave Alabama a one-year "make-up" for having excluded the Tide a year earlier.) More important, perhaps, from the national standpoint is that Alabama's schedule has been judged the nation's toughest and the estimated power ratings have Alabama around 20th in the nation. (Alabama has not been ranked in the polls, but has begun to receive votes.)

Alabama concludes regular season play at home Saturday against SEC Western Division champion Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only two SEC losses this year, and one of them was Bama's 77-73 win in Starkville. Tipoff Saturday will be at 2 p.m. CST with television coverage by Jefferson-Pilot.

Alabama is currently tied for second place in the SEC West with LSU, but must have a loss by the Bengal Tigers who play at Auburn Saturday, and a win over Mississippi State to finish in second place. In pre-season polls, Bama had been predicted to finish no better than fifth in the six-team SEC West.

Alabama seemed doomed after a very poor first half in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks opened the game with a 9-2 run, had a 13-2 run to end the first half and give Arkansas a 34-19 lead at intermission, then opened the second half with a 7-0 start to take a 22-p[oint lead at 41-19. Bama had been uninspired in the first half with Arkansas getting loose balls and uncontested shots. Additionally, Alabama had eight turnovers and Arkansas had only two at halftime.

With 9:43 to play in the game the Razorbacks had a 54-40 lead. Arkansas would not score another field goal until the game was in overtime.

Alabama tied the game with only eight seconds to play at 63-63 when Antoine Pettway hit a three-point shot. It was the first time the game had been tied since tipoff at 0-0. Bama's first lead came in overtime when Chuck Davis moved in and made a short shot. Emmett Thomas hit a three-pointer to give the Tide a five-point lead. Arkansas tied it with its first field goals in some 13 minutes of play. But after Kennedy Winston missed two free throws, he hit a short jumper to give the Tide a 70-68 lead with just under a minute to play. Arkansas missed its next two shots and Tiders getting rebounds, Davis and Thomas, made resulting free throws to ice the game. Davis made one free throw with 11.5 seconds to play and Thomas, whose free throws in the final seconds at Auburn gave Bama a win in that game a week ago, hit a foul shot for the final point of the game.

Tide Coach Gottfried was understandably effusive in praise of his team. "I'm so proud of them," he said. "These guys have gotten it done. I didn't think we were ready to play when the game started, which is my fault. You're fortunate to win a game when you get down like that on the road. But our guys weren't going to be denied. The choices are to roll over or to play as hard as we can, and we were able to do that. They keep showing such tremendous, tremendous character. A lot of guys stepped up and played big for us.

"Our defense had to win it for us. We couldn't swap baskets. Our man was good to us and our zone was good for us as well. We made smart plays in the second half that we didn't in the first half.

"Sometimes you aren't at your best for whatever reason. All of a sudden we had tipped it up and we weren't ready. But our guys stepped it up and got the job done."

Davis was the statistical leader for Bama with 18 points and eight rebounds. Winston, who has been the SEC Player of the Week the past two weeks, had a solid game with 17 points, including what proved to be the game-winning field goal. Thomas had 11 points, Earnest Shelton 10, and Pettway 9.

Free throws were important in the Tide win. Although Alabama did not shoot particularly well from the foul line, Bama was good on 19 of 32 free shots. Bama had a string of nine straight successes in its second half comeback. Arkansas hit 14 of 18 foul shots.

Both teams were relatively cold shooting, Bama hitting 23 of 51 from the field (45 er cent) and Arkansas 24 of 55 (44.6 per cent). Bama hit only 7 of 22 three-point shots, while Arkansas was good on only 6 of 20. Alabama had a 36-29 advantage in rebounding.

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