Tide Finds Ways To Lose

If one had to put his finger on the first thing that went wrong for Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Men's Basketball Tournament championship game Sunday, it would have been just over two years ago when Mario Austin, who had committed to Alabama, mysteriously changed his mind and signed with Mississippi State. On Sunday, Austin was named the Most Valuable Player in the tournament and Mississippi State defeated a lethargic Crimson Tide, 61-58.

However, if one is going to point fingers at all the reasons for Alabama's loss in the championship game, one would probably have to borrow a hand or two. There was very little good about Alabama's play.

The Crimson Tide parlayed weak defense, poor rebounding, poor decisions and missed opportunities on offense, and turnovers at the worst possible times into a second place finish at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. There's even some reason to question whether coaching was at its best as Alabama players perhaps needed some direction on their last real possession with a chance to win, but got none.

Still, Alabama, the SEC regular season champion, has a 26-7 record going into NCAA Tournament play. NCAA pairings were to be announced at 6 p.m. EST (5 p.m. CST)

It was almost a miracle that Alabama was even in the game at the end. The Tide fell behind by 10 points late in the first half, but closed out with five straight points to trail only 30-25 at the half. And Bama battled into a tie at 35-35 and with just under nine and a half minutes to play the Tide took the lead at 45-44 on a Dudley tip-in.

Bama and State went back-and-forth over the next five minutes, but then the Bulldogs hit back-to-back uncontested three-point shots for a 57-52 lead, and the Tide was never able to catch up.

Bama's best chance at victory came when the Tide had the basketball with just under 40 seconds to play and trailing by only 59-58. However, instead of working the ball inside to Dudley or having Grizzard drive the lane, a chance for a basket and/or a trip to the free throw line, Bama ended up with Maurice Williams taking a wild, and well-off-the-mark, three-point shot. The rebound was gathered in by State and the game was over.

Although Austin was the tournament's MVP, once again Bama's Dudley was better statistically. Dudley led Alabama with 18 points and eight rebounds. (Austin had 15 points and eight rebounds.) Rod Grizzard, Bama's only representative on the all-tournament team, had 17 points and seven rebounds.

Alabama hit only 38.5 per cent of its field goal attempts, includi8ng only 28.6 per cent of its three-point tries. Mississippi State had three more field goals than Bama as the Bulldogs hit 41.1 per cent, including 31.3 per cent on treys. Alabama continues to shoot free throws well as the Tide hit 12 of 16, 75 per cent.

Mississippi State had a slight advantage in rebounding, 35-33, and the Bulldogs had only eight turnovers to Alabama's 10, not big differences, but perhaps significant in a three-point game.

Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried said, "We just had one of those days where we didn't play our best."

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