Tide motivated for SEC schedule

Facing the second admittedly ‘soft' opponent just before the opening of SEC play, Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried knew he'd have to work extra hard at motivation Wednesday night. So when his team's intensity level dropped off yet again versus the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, Gottfried called timeout and let loose on his starters with a carefully calculated outburst.

"I just told them they needed to become more aggressive offensively," was Gottfried's deadpan explanation of his message following the game. "I tried to express it in a real friendly way."

Normally when a coach calls timeout during a game, the players walk to the bench area, sit down in a semi-circle of chairs surrounded by the reserves, and listen to the coach's instructions.

Calm and friendly in person, Coach Gottfried is obviously capable of getting intense when the situation calls for it. (AllSport)

But this time the Bama Head Coach met his athletes before they reached the sideline, gesturing to the reserves and assistant coaches to stay put on the bench. Gottfried then ripped off his suit coat before proceeding to deliver his "friendly" message to the five players at mid-court.

"It didn't surprise me that he would meet us out on the court," said starting guard Rod Grizzard. "I've seen that before. But he did come out of that coat pretty fast."

Message delivered. Message received.

Gottfried returned to the bench. And the Tide team turned up the intensity and proceeded to blow out Bethune-Cookman, 93-46.

After playing a tough pre-conference schedule, everyone on the Tide squad knew that the Bethune-Cookman and FAMU (Monday night) games would present a motivation problem. Grizzard explained; "You always want to take them one at a time. Bethune-Cookman was another that can come in and beat you in your house. So you have to be on your toes at all times. Everybody in the locker room got torn apart by Coach after the Florida A&M game (won by Alabama 76-52 with an often lackadaisical effort). And then Coach got on us during that timeout just now.

"But because of what's happened in the past, you always want to look forward to LSU."

Alabama finishes its pre-conference schedule with a record of 12-2. The Associated Press ranks the Tide 18th in the nation, while ESPN/USA Today lists Bama at No. 19.

But after being left out of last year's NCAA tournament, no one associated with Bama basketball is taking anything for granted. "A lot of people are talking about how the games we've won have kind of assured us (an NCAA tournament) bid for March," Grizzard said. "But it's early on. We haven't played more than 15 games. When it's SEC time, then it's time for us to put our foot in and make our mark."

Alabama opens conference play this Saturday versus the LSU Bengal Tigers. The game will take place in Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum with tip-off scheduled for 6 pm (CST). Fox Sports Net will provide television coverage.

Despite the two most recent easy games, Alabama played a demanding out-of-conference schedule, including contests with UCLA, Temple, Utah, Notre Dame, Memphis and Missouri. Gottfried's squad responded with four wins and two losses against that tough slate.

Junior guard Terrance Meade explained; "Basically we just said, ‘Hey, they didn't let us in (to the NCAA tournament) last year because of our schedule.' This year Coach (Gottfried) put it to us, and we responded."

Alabama lost badly in California to UCLA, 79-57. And Missouri took a 75-68 win, while hosting the Tide in Kansas City, Missouri. But though Notre Dame, Memphis, Temple and Utah all played tough, Alabama was clearly the better team in those four contests.

Though he has more offensive help this season, once again Rod Grizzard will be counted on to score points in bunches for the Tide. (AllSport)

"I think a lot of those games were wake-up calls for us," Grizzard said. "We won some tough ones and lost some tough ones. I think this was to let the writers and the critics that shunned us out last year know that early on we can play with (high caliber) teams."

Pointing almost exclusively to Alabama's just average 2000-01 strength of schedule, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee left the Tide out of last season's bracket. "Last year we didn't face many teams early as good as the teams we've faced so early this season," Grizzard said. "This lets (the NCAA committee) know that we can play with these type teams.

"Our schedule last year wasn't the way they wanted, so we beefed it up a little. We played tougher games and won more than our share. We're not just relying on our tough SEC schedule to get us in. We're playing tougher teams early on in the season plus our SEC (schedule). I think that will help us out."

Just like every other Division 1A basketball team, Alabama's ultimate goal is a deep run in the NCAA Tournament next spring. But looming ahead is the equally important SEC schedule. And Meade believes his team's demanding early schedule will help there as well.

"I think it has made this team a lot better," he said. "It's gotten us prepared for March, and it's getting us prepared for playing on the road in the SEC. I think the improvement should show."

For two seasons now Alabama has played well at home against the best its conference has to offer, only to wilt under pressure on the road.

And despite Bama's strong early record, Grizzard doesn't think that reputation is dead yet. "Not really. Even though we've won some on the road, now it's SEC time. Over the last two years we've gone into various places where we've played strong in the first half and then lose the second half--or vice versa.

"We won't know until it's all said and done at the end of the year whether we've learned to do what we need to do on the road."

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