Arkansas challenges the Tide

Twenty-nine and one. <br><br>Criticize Mark Gottfried and his Alabama squad all you want for their anemic road record the last two years, but be fair and recognize the other side of that coin. Over the course of that time, the Tide has lost once--only once--in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum. <Br><br>And the last team to turn that trick, the Arkansas Razorbacks, is back again tonight.

In a game that will be crucial to both squad's chances at the SEC Western Division title, seventh ranked Alabama (17-3 overall, 5-1 SEC) takes on Arkansas (11-8, 3-4) at 7 pm tonight.

"Alabama and Arkansas have always been great athletic contests," Gottfried said. "And this should be another one. Last year Arkansas beat us twice. We've got a lot of respect for their program. If you're a competitor, then you always want to play the teams that beat you."

Arkansas leads the overall series between the schools, 19-13, including last year's sweep. The Razorbacks took a convincing 87-58 win in Fayetteville and took a 66-63 squeaker in Tuscaloosa. Gottfried is 3-3 versus Arkansas as a head coach at Alabama, and 4-3 overall.

Freshman point guard Mo Williams has helped Alabama with both his ball handling and scoring.

"It seemed like we turned the ball over 100 times in that last game," Gottfried said. "Obviously we've got to do a better job of protecting the ball this time. We don't want to let them come in here and beat us back to back.

"They're similar to previous Arkansas teams. Nolan (Richardson, the Razorback head coach) won't get away from what's been good to him. They like to create a chaotic atmosphere. We've got to be willing to handle it."

Under Richardson, the Razorbacks typically press all over the court, looking to take a team out of its offense and create turnovers. This season they lead the SEC in turnover margin. Gottfried explained; "They do create a frenzied atmosphere. They want you to panic and get away from your plan. We've got to keep our poise. Stay in control and play at your pace--not theirs."

On offense Arkansas likes to press the tempo, but that's not something that Gottfried fears. "I don't mind our team running with anybody," he said. "That's fine with us. Our players like to push the ball against anybody in the country. But in fast or slow games, we've got to be efficient. Whatever pace we play, we've got to value the basketball and not be careless."

Richardson is famous for juggling lineups, often utilizing his entire bench in key games. The Razorbacks principal offensive weapons this season are guards Brandon Dean and Jannero Pargo, averaging 13.4 and 17.2 points per game respectively.

"We've got to do a good job with Pargo," Gottfried said. "When someone scores 35 points against Florida, that gets your attention. And we've got to do a good job with Dean. Our players have got to know who they're guarding, each player's individual strengths and weaknesses.

Sophomore guard Antoine Pettway has been a catalyst for the Tide in recent games, setting the tone with intense defense and also providing key long-range shooting.

"But with Arkansas, it always comes back to handling their pressure. I still think we're turning the ball over too much. I still think we can take better care of the ball. Arkansas, Florida and Ole Miss, those are all teams that gave us trouble with pressure last season."

At +2.67 per game, Alabama is fourth in the league so far in turnover margin.

Richardson's pattern is to shuffle multiple players in and out of the lineup, hoping to wear down his opponent physically. Gottfried acknowledged that he would probably go deeper on his bench than normal to respond to that tactic, but he doesn't intend to get away from the rotation that has taken the Tide to its Top 10 ranking.

"I'm not going to change too much," he said. "We hope our two big guys (Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker) on the inside will be an advantage for us."

Both Alabama and Arkansas are coming off big wins in the conference. The Tide went into Rupp Arena last Saturday and came away with a three-point victory over Kentucky, while Arkansas earned a hard-fought overtime victory at home over the Florida Gators.

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