"We're getting plenty of production from our bench," said Tide starting point guard Mo Williams. "We're a lot deeper now than we were at the beginning of the year. Those guys are scoring more points."
Alabama won the battle of the benches decisively, outscoring Ole Miss' reserves 28-6. "I thought (reserve guards) Antoine Pettway and Earnest Shelton were the difference in the first half," Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried said. "And (reserve guard) Demetrius Smith helped us on defense and passing the ball. Demetrius does a lot for this team with his rebounding, passing and defense."
Pettway and Shelton chipped in 16 and 10 points respectively. Smith had only two points on the night, but five assists, two rebounds and a tremendous job defensively were key to Bama's win.
The win gives Alabama a two and a half game lead over the Rebels in the SEC Western Division. With the win, Alabama has now won 20 games for the second consecutive season. It is the twenty-second 20-win season in the program's history, and second under Coach Gottfried. Alabama has now tied the best start by a Tide team since 1977.
Bama's record now stands at 20-3 overall, 8-1 in SEC play. Ole Miss drops to 17-6, 6-4 in conference play. "They came in with a high level of intensity," said Tide forward Rod Grizzard. "They beat us by 34 points last year (in Oxford), and they were thinking they'd get another one.
"But we weren't going to have it."
Rebel Head Coach Rod Barnes summed up his team's performance. "We met a good basketball team. They played well. Basically, they beat us. They've got a good team with a great nucleus. And it seems like they're on a mission."
Grizzard scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, also adding three rebounds, two assists and a steal. But once again Erwin Dudley starred for the Tide, earning yet another double/double with 10 rebounds and a game-high 22 points. "Erwin Dudley is just one of the best big men in the country," Barnes said. "You don't have double/doubles against the teams he has and not be great. He is just going to get his rebounds and points."
"My teammates fed me the ball," Dudley said. "They just kept feeding me the ball, penetrating and then dishing it off to me. Then I made the shot."
Forward Justin Reed led Ole Miss with 19 points and 12 rebounds. "We wanted to limit Reed," Gottfried said. "But we didn't do a very good job. He's a handful to defend. We tried to keep him from scoring, but we couldn't do it."
For Alabama, Kenny Walker scored four points, Terrance Meade five, and Mo Williams eight. The Rebel's Aaron Harper had a good offensive night, scoring 14 points. No other Ole Miss player made it to double figures. The Tide shot 52 percent on the night to Ole Miss' 41 percent. The Rebels won the rebounding battle, 34-31.
Since losing on the road to a frankly poor Auburn team, the Tide has reeled off six consecutive conference wins, including road wins at Georgia, Kentucky, and LSU. Gottfried believes the team is still motivated from being left out of the 2001 NCAA Tournament. "It doesn't take our group long to remember last year. We got stung last spring. And that's a great motivator."
With the victory Alabama has now opened up a 2 1/2-game lead on its nearest challenger in the SEC West. But Gottfried isn't finished. "We're a long way from (clinching)," he said. "We're just one game into the second half of the season. We've got a lot of basketball left to play."
"Strange things can happen," Grizzard agreed. "We may be playing well now, but he had a good start last year, too. We've still got a lot of work left to do."
But on the other hand, Grizzard didn't duck the question of whether or not this Alabama team is good enough to win out. "You've always got to be optimistic. So I'm going to say ‘Yes' on that one."
Alabama will take its six-game winning streak on the road Saturday when they head to Starkville, Mississippi to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs at 2 p.m.