In Saturday's game at Auburn, the Tide was down by more than 10 points late in the second half, only to rally to take the lead. Despite the fact that his squad lost yet another road game, Gottfried was proud of the way they battled back. At one point even taking the lead, before falling 59-56.
"We played hard," he said. "We put ourselves in a position to win at the game. Our players cared about that game. It hurt them deeply when they didn't get it done. Execution at the end of the game on offense and defense--that's where we have to get better. But if our players continue to fight like that, then we'll get over the hump."
Conference road games are always tough, but on paper at least Georgia is a better team than Auburn. "I think Georgia is the surprise team of the conference so far," Gottfried said. "They deserve to be ranked. They're a very, very good team. There is just no stretch in this league that's easy. Look at anyone's schedule, and you just don't see that. The SEC is so balanced; there are no breathers."
Having lost much of their interior game to graduation, the Bulldogs are led by two scoring machines on the perimeter. Guard Ezra Williams is averaging 17.9 points per game and forward Jarvis Hayes is right behind with 16.9. "Their two perimeter players are as good as any pair in the conference," Gottfried said. "Coach Harrick (Georgia Head Coach Jim Harrick) is good at taking what he has and developing that talent into a good basketball team. This year they're more wing oriented."
"Jarvis Hayes is probably the most impressive newcomer in our league this year," Gottfried continued. "Any time you go on the road at Kentucky and get 30 points. 30 points in a win, not a loss, that says something. He's strong and he's aggressive."
Tide center Kenny Walker got into foul trouble Saturday, forcing Gottfried to go with a smaller lineup. At one point late in the game, Bama's lineup consisted of forward Erwin Dudley and four guards. "I think our small lineup helped us," Gottfried said. "They were in there when we went on that 13-0 run. That group gave us a great run. I went with them because they gave us a lot of quickness on defense. If Kenny (or Erwin) gets into foul trouble, then we get small very quick."
With three assists and seven points off the bench, Gottfried singled out reserve point guard Antoine Pettway for praise. "Antoine gives us an emotional lift. He just plays hard. He's one of those players that when you put him in, you almost always don't want to take him out."
Playing in his first conference game on the road, true freshman Mo Williams totaled 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists. "Mo played well--very aggressive," Gottfried said. "He took good shots, pushed the ball on the break. He'll make a difference for us this year."
Gottfried was an assistant to Harrick at UCLA, and the two coaches worked together during the Bruins' national championship run in 1995. So the two teams will have few secrets this Wednesday. "He's familiar with us," Gottfried acknowledged. "At times last year I thought (Georgia and Alabama) mirrored each other. There will be no surprises on either side. It will come down to which team executes better."
With only Walker and Dudley as proven players on the inside, Alabama has to rely on the long-range shooting of its talented wing players. But so far in conference play the Tide is only shooting 28 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. "That's a concern," Gottfried said. "Rod (Grizzard) took a few shots (Saturday) that weren't so good, but Terrance Meade had great shots. He needs to take those when they're there. I think we can be a good shooting team, but so far we haven't shown that."